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Statewide Mass. police union supports parts of reform bill but not qualified immunity changes

The union said that the point of qualified immunity is to make sure cops aren’t “deterred from acting in split-second situations”

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Photo/Boston Police Department

By Sean Philip Cotter
Boston Herald

BOSTON — A statewide cop union says it’s on board with the various proposed police reforms on Beacon Hill – except for anything that would limit qualified immunity.

“Qualified immunity does not shield officers from criminal prosecution from wrongdoing,” the Massachusetts Coalition of Police -- or MassCOP -- statewide union wrote in a letter this week to the members of the conference committee on Beacon Hill who continue to wrangle over a police reform bill. “What it does allow is police officers the right to act in good faith in their jobs without fearing that each potentially lifesaving decision could lead to a civil lawsuit.”

The large cop union said that the point of qualified immunity -- a legal doctrine that prevents individual police officers from civil liability in many cases -- is to make sure cops and other government officials aren’t “deterred from acting in split-second situations.”

“Judges, prosecutors, legislators and members of Congress hold positions where they have far more time to make decisions, and do not face death or the prospect of death or injury if those decisions are not made quickly,” the letter said. “Yet unlike police officers, they enjoy ‘absolute immunity.’ ”

The state House and Senate each passed a police reform bill in July following the protests earlier in the summer over law-enforcement treatment of Black people. Both proposals featured similar new constraints on use of force and an officer accreditation mechanism, but differed on the issue of qualified immunity, with the House version going much further.

MassCOP says it’s fine with the general thrust of some other portions of the bill, including a ban on chokeholds and the creation of an independent body to oversee best practices of police departments.

“These are constructive efforts to improve law enforcement, protect officers and the public and increase transparency and accountability,” reads the letter from Scott Hovsepian, the head of the MassCOP union, which represents 4,300 officers in 157 cities and towns across the commonwealth.

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