Letter to legislators outlines concerns with proposed measures.
SOUTH YARMOUTH — Yarmouth has joined several towns across the state in expressing concern over the sweeping police reform and accountability legislation being considered on Beacon Hill.
The Board of Selectmen this week approved a letter drafted by Chairman Mark Forest that will be sent to the six legislators who sit on a conference committee working to reach a compromise on separate police reform bills passed by the House and Senate.
The police reform initiative came in response to calls from protesters across the nation to address racial injustice and police brutality after George Floyd died in the custody of Minneapolis police.
Provisions within the proposed bills would create more accountability and curb use-of-force tactics.
Yarmouth officials say the town has a solid relationship with its Police Department.
“What we do in the letter is make it very clear we have a great deal of pride as a community in the work of our Police Department,” Forest said. “Something we’re all very proud of is the way our Police Department actively engages the community, how they do business, and how the community can play a role in working with the Police Department in fighting crime.”
In addition to asking that any financial impact on local communities as a result of the legislation be covered by state funding, Yarmouth’s letter expresses concern over proposed changes to qualified immunity, a legal provision that protects officers from being personally sued for reasonable actions taken in the line of duty.
The letter says the police chief and some of the officers fear proposed changes to qualified immunity provisions “will negatively impact police services, and potentially other town-appointed and elected officials and staff.”
Suggested reform measures related to qualified immunity could “reduce the size of police departments, force retirements or discourage new recruits from becoming police officers,” the letter states.
Selectman Michael Stone cited qualified immunity as probably the most significant issue among the police reform provisions.
“When you put not only police officers but other municipal employees at risk of being sued for good-faith exercise of their duties, that’s going to be a big hesitation on the part of that person in doing what they have to do,” Stone said. “There’s no such thing as absolute immunity. If you act in bad faith or violate someone’s civil rights, you’re not protected.”
The police reform packages approved by the House and Senate were done hastily, Stone said.
“When you want to do something very comprehensive and something that’s going to last and represent some major reform, you want to make sure you have all the stakeholders at the table, and that wasn’t done here,” he said.
Yarmouth’s letter also questions measures that would limit the authority of school resource officers.
During Tuesday’s discussion, Selectman Tracy Post said the town’s school resource program has a long history, and she would oppose restrictions being placed on it.
State Rep. Timothy Whelan, R-Brewster, serves on the conference committee working on the reform bill, which is being done in closed session. Whelan said Wednesday he could not offer specific information since he is “bound by the rules of confidentiality.”
Many people are concerned about the proposed measures, Whelan said. Members of the conference committee as well as all state legislators are hearing from their constituents.
“I will certainly review Yarmouth’s letter,” said Whelan, who had not yet received it Thursday. “Obviously something from Yarmouth will get extra attention from me since I represent the town.”
Follow Christine Legere on Twitter: @ChrisLegereCCT.