Xiarhos Urges Governor Baker to Veto the “Police Reform Bill”

December 9, 2020

Steve Xiarhos has sent the following letter to Governor Baker urging him to veto S.2963, the “Police Reform Bill”:

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December 9, 2020

His Excellency Charles D. Baker
Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
The State House, Room 360
Boston, MA 02133

Dear Governor Baker:

I am writing to encourage you to veto Senate Bill 2963, the so-called Police Reform Bill.

I served as a Massachusetts police officer for four decades, retiring from the position of Deputy Chief of Police in the Town of Yarmouth in late 2019. My experience on the job leaves me with three inescapable conclusions. First, in my opinion, first responders as a group are heroes and deserve our respect and support. Second, I acknowledge that our state laws relating to criminal justice do need reform. In this sense, I do not steadfastly oppose efforts to work on some version of a police reform bill. However, third, I strongly believe Senate Bill 2963 as enacted is the wrong approach.

Following the tragic and unacceptable death of George Floyd earlier this year (together with other similar incidents), Massachusetts and many other states embarked on a mission to reexamine laws relating to policing. As a former police officer, I welcome this examination ā€“ not just now, but on an ongoing basis. Police officers are professionals and public servants. Therefore, they should always be held to the highest possible standards and expectations. And, to the extent that our current laws are inadequate to assure such quality, our laws can and should be changed.

However, I also believe the Legislature can go too far, even when it acts with good intent. Specifically, I am concerned when legislative proposals are tinged with the operative assumption that every first responder may pose potential risk to the general public. That is not my experience or judgment. I am also wary of legislative proposals which seek to impose mandates that second-guess the discretion of first responders to conduct themselves appropriately on the job and thereby undercut their ability to perform their mission. And, I am opposed to legislative proposals that fail to support our first responders and their rights when they need our support.

I believe Senate Bill 2963, as passed to be enacted, fails these tests despite containing certain provisions that have merit.
In my opinion, Massachusetts police officers need additional training and resources to know how to deal appropriately with the stressful and sometimes-violent situations they encounter as part of their job. Clearly, officers have a duty to conduct themselves appropriately, and to police themselves and their fellow officers as much as the citizens they serve. And, clearly, whenever an officer acts inappropriately, uses force without justification, or exhibits any form of racism or other discriminatory intent, that officer must be punished.

However, I also believe that qualified immunity protections are important for police officers. I have faith in our legal system to know the difference between a bad officer who is hiding behind the badge and a good officer who is being scrutinized unfairly. I worry that provisions of Senate Bill 2963 unfairly undercut these protections and also take away due process rights of first responders. While I do not oppose the creation of a statewide database of law enforcement officers, I am concerned about the way it might be used and that it might undercut the rights of first responders. I am additionally concerned about provisions such as a ban on facial recognition software. These provisions as drafted, however well intentioned, could have a negative impact on the ability of our police to keep people safe. And, while I do not defend the use of forceful, life-threatening tactics by police officers without strong justification – and particularly in any situation motivated by any discriminatory animus ā€“ I am very worried when the General Court tries to legislate the way police officers should do their job in the middle of extremely dynamic and stressful situations.

Governor Baker, I appreciate your support of first responders in our Commonwealth and your own proposals offered to reform our stateā€™s policing laws. I believe Senate Bill 2963 was passed in haste at the end of the current legislative session. I believe more time and deliberation by the Legislature would enable us to craft a bill that does a better job of addressing important issues without so many unintended consequences. Therefore, I encourage you to veto Senate Bill 2963 and return it to the Legislature, such that the General Court may reconsider it at the beginning of the next legislative session in January. As an incoming State Representative, I pledge to do my best to assist with that process however I can and to support passage of a well-crafted bill as soon as possible.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Steven G. Xiarhos