A Joint Letter From Programs Serving Sexual and Domestic Violence Survivors
Dear Speaker DeLeo, Senate President Spilka, and Policing Reform Conference Committee Members:
We, the undersigned community-based sexual and domestic violence service providers, urge you to take immediate action to pass a policing reform bill that incorporates the many provisions of S.2820/H.4886 designed to increase police accountability and reduce harm in communities most impacted by police violence.
Those who oppose police reform often cite the needs of victims of domestic violence and sexual assault as reasons not to place reasonable limits on police authority to use force. This argument presumes that the greatest risk to victims is the person who caused them immediate harm, and the greatest means of protection is to call the police. However, the reality for many victims and survivors is that both police action and inaction can sometimes add more harm, and these harms are disproportionately experienced by people and communities of color, immigrants, poor people, those struggling with addiction and mental illness, and so many more.
As organizations who work to end sexual and domestic violence, we want you to hear directly from us that harm reduction in policing practices is essential to ensuring that law enforcement officers and the system as a whole will be more effective and more accountable to the communities they serve. Survivors repeatedly tell us that they do not want their abuser hurt, and certainly not killed, when they call for help; they want the harm to stop, to feel safe in their own homes, and for those who caused them harm to be held accountable in meaningful ways. Victims should also not have to worry that they or their children might be hurt by the very people they are calling for help.
We ask that you declare that Black lives in the Commonwealth matter by supporting efforts that will reduce the harm of police-inflicted violence on our communities.
Omnibus Policing Reform Priorities We see the provisions of S.2820/H.4886 as one step towards reducing the harm of structural violence in Massachusetts. In particular, the following provisions must be included in an Omnibus Policing Reform bill to improve the safety and justice for all people in the Commonwealth.
1. Ban the most violent of police tactics. We urge the Conference Committee to include strong use of force standards including a complete ban on the most violent of police tactics—chokeholds, no-knock warrants and tear gas and other chemical weapons. These violent and harmful police tactics need to be prohibited to ensure the safety of all persons who encounter a police officer. We have witnessed time and again the use of chokeholds by police officers against Black men that ultimately lead to death. This practice cannot continue. We have also seen the dangers of no-knock warrants which are disproportionately used when Black and Brown people are the suspects. Lastly, tear gas and other chemical weapons have been shown to cause serious hormonal disruption, bodily injury and even death. The Commonwealth must not allow these dangerous practices that disproportionately target and harm Black people to continue.
2. Strict limits on qualified immunity. It is imperative the Conference Committee answer the calls of the people to impose strict limits on qualified immunity to ensure that police can be held accountable when they violate people’s rights. Banning violent police tactics is meaningless if there is no way for people to hold the police accountable if they break the rules.
3. Ban on the use of facial recognition technology. Face surveillance technologies have serious racial bias flaws built into their systems. Based on research, we know this technology is extremely poor at accurately recognizing the faces of women and people of color, misclassifying darker-skinned females at an extremely higher rate than lighter-skinned males. These dangerous failings of facial recognition technology serve to supercharge racist policing. Furthermore, all survivors of sexual and domestic violence, and particularly Black survivors, should not have to worry that calling the police will result in them being wrongfully identified as a criminal or having their activity monitored.
4. Prevent sexual assault in police custody. Included as an amendment to H.4886, this provision closes a statutory loophole by prohibiting law enforcement officers from engaging in sexual conduct with persons in their custody. There is no clear ability to determine consent when power dynamics are so significant that one party has the power and ability to control another’s personal liberty. Law enforcement officers should not be able to use their role to subject a person in their custody to any unwanted sexual contact of any kind.
5. Create an Independent Oversight System with Strong Accountability Measures: Massachusetts is one of only a few states without a POST system. Any oversight body should have strong civilian representation and evidentiary standards that enable rather than deny justice. We urge the Committee to establish a POST system that is truly independent and includes strong representation from members of the public who have personal and/or professional experience with respect to the impact of structural racism on communities of color.
6. Justice Reinvestment and Opportunity in Communities Affected by Incarceration : Reducing the harm of police-inflicted violence on communities also requires investing in communities most impacted by crimes and the successes of criminal justice reform. We support investing in the Justice Reinvestment Workforce Development Fund to support communities heavily impacted by crime and the criminal justice system. Using savings from reductions in incarceration to strengthen communities & prevent crime through programs like workforce development, social enterprise & small business development, dropout prevention programs, and transitional employment improve the lives of survivors of sexual and domestic violence and their communities.
7. Commission on Structural Racism: Unfortunately, our declarations of injustice and critiques of structural racism often fall on unsympathetic ears in the absence of empirical data. Despite the numerous reports that look at racial disparities, there has not been a commission that will take a comprehensive look at the policies and practices that lead to racially disparate outcomes. In order to hone in on the policies and practices that lead these disparate outcomes we trust that you will include in the final version of the bill a commission on structural racism.
This is our opportunity as a Commonwealth to invest in our communities to build a more equitable and just Commonwealth that explicitly values Black Lives, and which in doing so will also improve the ability of law enforcement to more effectively and ultimately more safely respond to domestic and sexual violence.
DOVE Executive Director