Legal teams representing police organizations in Massachusetts are pushing back against police officer recertification guidelines that they say hold officers to an unfair “Boy-Scout standard” of moral character.
As the deadline for officer recertification approaches, police groups are going back and forth with the Police Officer Standards and Training Commission (POST), which voted 4–3 against proposed regulations guiding officer recertification, which commissioners say holds police to unfair standards.
Commissioners said the regulations would be temporarily put in place as the July 1 deadline for recertification covering officers with last names A to H approaches and would only adopt permanent regulations after public comment and further revision.
However, police groups opposed the regulations aiming to assess an officer’s “good character and fitness for employment,” especially when it came to a certain clause calling on officers to “promote public confidence in law enforcement.”
The regulations state: “An employing agency shall take into account whether an officer promotes public confidence in law enforcement and whether the officer presently exhibits morality, integrity, candor, forthrightness, trustworthiness, attention to duty, self-restraint and an appreciation of the distinctions between right and wrong in the conduct of people toward each other.”
Attorney Alan Shapiro said the standards for officer morality go beyond statutory authority and adhere to a Boy-Scout standard of character.
“It seems to me that if you’re going beyond good moral character and fit for employment to a kind of Boy-Scout standard, that exceeds the statutory authority,” Shapiro said. “If I’m a police officer, I go to work. I show up every day, I do my job. If I get a call, I go on the call. I’m not biased. If I have to make an arrest, I make an arrest. Isn’t that enough? I mean, why do I have to promote public confidence in law enforcement? Where do all these things come from?”
The officer certification process is quite recent in Massachusetts, being signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker in 2020 as part of a police reform package that promotes police accountability.
Clearly, there is still some ambiguity within the process.
Dr. Hanya Bluestone agreed with Shapiro and suggested leaving the clause out entirely.
“I’m wondering if we could take it one step further and just leave it as whether an officer promotes public confidence in law enforcement and continue to work on the definition,” Bluestone said. “Because I am concerned that we’re taking a standard from the bar. And I think attorney Shapiro’s comments were convincing for me.”
Commissioner Kimberly West, however, said the clause should remain in place, arguing that police officers should be held to a higher standard.
“The standard for police officers, in fact, should be higher than the standard for attorneys who don’t interact with the public,” West said.
POST Executive Director Enrique Zuniga scheduled a meeting following the vote to consider revisions to the proposed regulations following the vote.
“If we waited until the currently tentatively scheduled meeting of June 15, there might simply be virtually almost no time to address some of the concerns raised, additional edits to the regulations and any potential modifications to the questionnaire,” Zuniga said. “I would strongly recommend that we consider having a meeting next week to essentially continue these discussions.”
Attorneys with the Massachusetts Police Association also hit back at a questionnaire in the recertification pack, saying that some questions were vague and inappropriate.
“Should you have a personal questionnaire for officers that basically asks vague, over-broad questions? No. There’s a point where the process just creates defensiveness among officers,” one attorney stated.
The POST commission stated that such questions were intended to aid oral interviews during an officer’s recertification.
Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Frederickson called the POST Commission an “interesting concept” but also criticized the questionnaire.
“Basically, some of the questions don’t really have the ability to be evaluated,” Frederickson said. “I think POST could do everybody a big favor by looking at some of those odd questions and removing them.”