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Massachusetts’ New Police Reform Law Misses First Deadline

The widely praised law mandated that a 22-member committee meet by Monday, Feb. 15 to discuss law enforcement use of facial recognition technology. As of Tuesday, the committee had yet to be established.

(TNS) — A landmark police reform law passed in December is already stumbling in the State House after lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Baker this week blew past the first major deadline in the rollout.

Dorchester equality activist James Mackey accused lawmakers of getting "too comfortable in their seats" for botching the start.

"People advocated, they rallied, they screamed and yelled, they marched for them to pass this and now it's about accountability," Mackey said. "Now its up to us to hold these legislators accountable knowing that they haven't held their end of the bargain."

A special legislative commission on law enforcement's use of facial recognition technology was mandated to meet by Monday. But as of Tuesday morning, the commission's 22 members had yet to be named. Senate President Karen Spilka on Tuesday announced her three appointments to the 22-member committee only after a Herald reporter asked questions about why the commission members had not been named. They are: Senate Majority Leader Cindy Creem, D- Newton, Sen. Adam Gomez, D- Springfield, and Suffolk University Law School Professor Maurice R. Dyson.

Spilka's office ignored questions inquiring about the delay.

Baker, too, announced some of his appointments a day late, and only after a Herald inquiry. Hampden Police Chief Jeff Farnsworth will serve as the secretary of Public Safety and Security's designee, Maj. Scott Range will represent State Police and Acting Registrar Colleen Ogilvie will represent the Registry of Motor Vehicles, which holds the keys to the facial recognition technology.

"The administration ... will announce the rest soon," a spokesman for the governor's office said.

Spilka said the the commission will convene "once all appointments are made" but offered no specific timeline. House Speaker Ronald Mariano has three appointments, along with a handful of police and civil rights groups.

The commission's recommendations to safeguard against racial bias in use of facial recognition technology are due to the Legislature by Dec. 31, per the law.

A police source criticized the delay in launching the commission, describing it as "foot dragging" that would not be tolerated "if it were police who were missing deadlines."

The Rev. Ellis I. Washington St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Cambridge said officials' inability to meet the first deadline begs the question, "If nobody's paying attention to this particular deadline then how many more will they miss?"

He added the the more than a dozen special commissions and committees created by the law were "tasked to look at some specific issues basically left unfinished."

Civil rights attorney and police reform advocate Sophia Hall said officials "have a responsibility" to follow the law.

"This took a very long time to pass," said Hall, of Lawyers for Civil Rights. "There was a lot of outspoken advocacy on both sides of the spectrum and we passed it. It is irredeemable for them to not do at least what is laid out in this bill."

Government use of facial surveillance nearly crushed chances for police reform last session when Baker pushed back on lawmaker's attempts to ban use of the technology. In a compromise, lawmakers and the Republican governor agreed to limit its use to felony investigations and require a warrant.

(c)2021 the Boston Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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