A Good First Step But Not Enough: The Massachusetts Senate’s Police Reform Bill

Massachusetts Libertarians welcome the police reform bill, but it’s just the first step. Government overreach is the underlying cause and needs to be addressed.

This Monday, the Massachusetts State Senate published a police reform and racial equity omnibus bill (Bill S.2800 / 191st General Court). Based on an initial review, the proposed bill includes legislative measures supported by the Libertarian Party of Massachusetts: Changes that would reasonably limit qualified immunity, certify police officers and improve their training, create a duty to intervene when witnessing other officers use of excessive force, prevent problem-officers from being promoted, offer more clarity for limits on use of force, improve handling of mental-health related situations, and at least suspend the government use of remote biometric surveillance technology such as facial recognition software. This is a positive development for the citizens of the Commonwealth.

However, this bill also has some important short-comings: While increasing the control on the acquisition of military grade equipment by the police, the bill appears to fall short of any significant roll back of the existing militarization of the law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts. Also it does not seem to include any measure to curtail the use of asset forfeiture or other ‘policing for profit’ practices that haunt the state. Another major gap is the apparent failure to address prosecutorial misconduct along with the policing issues - the two of them usually go hand-in-hand. 

The vast majority of police officers already fulfill their duties beyond the standards established in this bill. And while it is important and long overdue to create a set of rules that incentivises these good officers instead of allowing the bad ones to thrive. And while this bill is generally an important step in the right direction, improving law enforcement accountability and training, it is only scratching the surface of the underlying problem of a broken criminal ‘justice’ system that has become much too intrusive into our lives, criminalizing everyday behavior.

Libertarians in Massachusetts think that we need to take this one step further and change not only how we are being policed, but also what is being policed: the best trained and most honorable police officers will fail to sustain justice, if we require them to enforce unjust laws. Calling the violence against citizens that we have witnessed over and over again just ‘police violence’ misses the underlying problem: it is ‘government violence’ created by laws we allow to be made and rooted in government overreach. The long-term solution to this problem is to remove the constant government intervention from people's everyday lives - as long as they are not  violating the rights of others. This means first of all, abolishing laws that fabricate ‘victimless crimes’ - illegal acts that directly involve only the perpetrator or occur between consenting adults and ending the racist war on drugs.

To fix the system of governance in Massachusetts, we need local action and visibility for principles of Liberty in Massachusetts. Change will start locally. Join the Libertarian Party of Massachusetts. Volunteer in a campaign. Create a local group in your town. Reach out to the LAMA State Committee.