The State Police Association of Massachusetts was formed in 1968 to represent and act as the exclusive bargaining agent for all members of the uniformed branch of the Department of State Police, in all subject matter and procedures relating to wages, hours, standards of productivity and performance, and any other terms and conditions of employment, and to all other subject matter concerning mutual aid and protection relating to employment. Our authorities are grounded in Chapter 150E of the Massachusetts General Laws, the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) by and between the Association and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and our Association By-Laws.
The role of the Police Union has come under increasing attack lately. Specifically, the charge is that unions allow for, and impede the removal of, bad cops. This is false. In addition to bargaining, we are also charged with the responsibility to mitigate the hazards of our work, and to foster safety, respect, justice, integrity and professionalism. We strive to preserve and foster good-will with the citizens of, and all people in, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. We encourage cooperative understandings and agreements with all organizations, agencies, and officers of government concerned with the State Police for the mutual benefit of our members and the improvement of public service.
As to our duty of representation, the courts have long recognized that our members have a constitutionally protected property interest in remaining employed, unless separated or suspended for just cause. Too often, law enforcement officers are tried and convicted in the court of public opinion far before an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding an incident are known. Let us be clear: we protect the process, not the bad actors.
Our protection of the process is no different than the affording of due process before conviction, or the presumption of innocence before trial. When acts are performed by law enforcement that clearly break with our oath, immediate action is taken in the form of a suspension, which removes bad actors from positions of authority and trust, and initiates an investigation that can end in the termination of employment and, at times, criminal charges.
- It is the process that prevents wrongs stemming from often self-interested, knee-jerk, reactions based on less than all of the facts;
- It is the process that speeds, when the truth is fully learned, appropriate discipline to be taken, or not taken when unjustified;
- It is the process that prevents reactionary, but unwarranted, action that is taken contrary to the public good and the much-needed delivery of police services;
- It is the process that we protect, not the bad actors.
We also protect the delivery of services to the public in the most efficient, effective and productive manner; the achievement of such is a recognized goal of our Association (Article 2 of the CBA). This ability, to efficiently and effectively perform our vital roles in the enforcement of the Commonwealth’s laws, brings up another topic of recent debate in the media: Qualified Immunity.
“Qualified immunity balances two important interests—the need to hold public officials accountable when they exercise power irresponsibly and the need to shield officials from harassment, distraction, and liability when they perform their duties reasonably.” Pearson v. Callahan.
Specifically, qualified immunity protects a government official from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff’s rights, only allowing suits where officials violated a “clearly established” statutory or constitutional right. Further, qualified immunity only applies to suits against government officials as individuals, not suits against the government for damages caused by the officials’ actions.
Although qualified immunity frequently appears in cases involving police officers, it also applies to most other executive branch officials. While judges, prosecutors, legislators, and some other government officials do not receive qualified immunity, most are protected by other immunity doctrines. What qualified immunity does not protect against, is when a law enforcement officer takes an action, with fair notice, known to be unlawful.
As the Commonwealth and the nation confront this moment of great social unrest, we urge our elected officials to speak out responsibly. Be supportive of peaceful protest, and be passionately against violence.
We are in dire need for courageous leadership from our elected officials to stop the targeted attacks on law enforcement, both in the form of the direct violence that is increasing at an alarming rate, but also in the slanderous portrayals against our noble and honored profession. In solidarity, our union makes us strong.
Corey J. Mackey
President, State Police Association of Massachusetts