Responding to the brutal killing of George Floyd by a police officer, and to the national reckoning on structural and institutional racism that it sparked, the Boston Bar Association (BBA) has established a Task Force on Ensuring Police Accountability. The new panel—to be co-chaired by Ralph Martin, the General Counsel for Northeastern University and former Suffolk County District Attorney, and by Natashia Tidwell of Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP, a former federal prosecutor and police lieutenant—will explore avenues for reforming of laws and policies that govern policing in Massachusetts, as state lawmakers, municipalities, and police departments continue to grapple with these issues.
Much of the public debate about police reform has focused on police departments—in particular, on the use of deadly force against Black women and men and other people of color. Co-Chair Ralph Martin stated, “Our intention is to focus on laws that inhibit the ability of Chiefs and Commissioners to hold officers accountable. We hope that the national movements that are being embraced by many communities, particularly Black and brown communities, will energize the willingness of government leaders to consider any changes we recommend.
“We believe the BBA can best contribute to the public discussion about policing by addressing several legal issues that create serious structural obstacles to police reform efforts,” said President Christine M. Netski, “specifically those that serve to undermine accountability for police misconduct. Legal rules should foster, not discourage, police accountability.”
The Task Force will therefore address, as comprehensively as possible, the system of legal rules and administrative processes that make holding officers accountable for their conduct more difficult. First, the Commonwealth’s civil service laws—at least as they are currently implemented—make it difficult for police and municipal leaders to hold police officers accountable when they act inappropriately. Second, the legal rules creating special protections for police when they are sued for violating an individual’s constitutional rights—the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity”—make it difficult for individuals to rely on our courts to secure justice.
Said co-chair Natashia Tidwell, the federal monitor in Ferguson, Missouri, who also serves on the BBA Council, “As a former police officer, I know from experience how difficult and challenging police work can be. But it is time for us to evaluate how we can best hold officers accountable when they break the law and violate the rights of the people they are sworn to serve. Without an effective system for ensuring accountability, the deep and abiding distrust of law enforcement within so many of our communities is bound to continue.”
The other members of the BBA Task Force on Ensuring Police Accountability are:
- Marty Murphy (BBA President-Elect)
Foley Hoag LLP
- Karen Blum
Suffolk University Law School
- Willie Bodrick
Twelfth Baptist Church, Roxbury
- Chief Joe Cordeiro
New Bedford Police Department
- Jay Gonzalez
- Sophia Hall
Lawyers for Civil Rights
- Justice Geraldine Hines (Ret.)
Boston College Law School
- Asha White
Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office