New analysis examines major differences in Massachusetts Legislature’s police reform bills, as clock ticks towards deadline for action

Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University’s Tisch College assesses key differences and potential missed opportunities of House and Senate bills
Police stand in a group wearing riot gear
Image via Pixabay
July 28, 2020

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Robin Smyton

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MEDFORD/SOMERVILLE, Mass. (July 28, 2020)—House and Senate leaders in Massachusetts have significant issues to address  if they are to pass an effective police reform bill for the state before the end of the legislative session this week, according to a new policy memo examining each house’s police reform proposals by the Center for State Policy Analysis (cSPA), a nonpartisan research organization based at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life.

Both proposals include new standards for police training, new limits on controversial tactics, and a clearer focus on the challenge of racial bias. However, the bills have substantial differences, as well as opportunities for enhancements not currently included, which lawmakers must reconcile before the legislative session ends .

The outstanding issues include:

  • Finding the best data to measure success, identify systemic problems and provide a firm grounding for future reforms. Currently, the Senate bill is more explicit about what information to collect and how best to share it, and also includes novel approaches for tracking public interactions with the police.
     
  • Ensuring that any new oversight agencies have consistent, adequate sources of funding. The House bill creates a dedicated fund, while the Senate version relies more on annual appropriations.
     
  • Clarifying lines of authority between new agencies to support organizational change and avoid bureaucratic infighting. The oversight agencies in the House and Senate bills are structured quite differently.
     
  • Looking beyond police departments and using justice reinvestment strategies to repair damage in communities hurt by bias or neglect. Only the Senate bill includes such an effort.

In addition to these broad patterns, the House and Senate bills also differ on a number of concrete details. For instance, the Senate wants new restrictions on the purchase of military-grade equipment. The House did not include that provision, nor another that would provide receipts for every traffic stop and pedestrian search, part of an effort to better understand how racial bias may be shaping police interactions.

The policy brief describes each of these issues in greater detail. Read the full report here.

“A rare window has opened for comprehensive police reform in Massachusetts," said Evan Horowitz, executive director of cSPA. “But there are still a number of hurdles, especially the tight timeframe. Our hope is that this memo will help clarify the key dividing lines and guide debate on some of the difficult choices and promising opportunities ahead.”

The Center for State Policy Analysis remains committed to providing expert, nonpartisan analysis of legislative proposals and ballot questions in Massachusetts. In the coming months, cSPA plans to release:

  • An analysis of the Transportation Climate Initiative, which would establish a regional cap-and-trade system covering emissions from cars and trucks, and
  • Research on the projected impact of the 2020 Massachusetts ballot questions, including right to repair and ranked-choice voting.

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About Tufts University

Tufts University, located on campuses in Boston, Medford/Somerville and Grafton, Massachusetts, and in Talloires, France, is recognized among the premier research universities in the United States. Tufts enjoys a global reputation for academic excellence and for the preparation of students as leaders in a wide range of professions. A growing number of innovative teaching and research initiatives span all Tufts campuses, and collaboration among the faculty and students in the undergraduate, graduate and professional programs across the university's schools is widely encouraged.