Massachusetts Works to Make Police Officer Records Publicly Accessible

After widespread protests about police brutality and racism in 2020, many jurisdictions looked inward and began asking tough questions about how to respond and grow. In Massachusetts, the state turned to its Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission to begin developing recommendations and taking action. 

One of the actions undertaken by the POST Commission has been a comprehensive evaluation of police conduct files and records. In essence, the Commission aims to background check every officer serving throughout Massachusetts. In the first phase of the review, 19 police officers lost their state certification and jobs because of what the conduct reviews uncovered. 

Ultimately, the review's purpose is not solely to disqualify officers who misbehaved in the past. Massachusetts hopes to publish a publicly accessible database where any citizen can enter a law enforcement officer's name and view their disciplinary record. The system, now late, has yet to launch due to ongoing legal battles, the need to complete many thousands more background checks, and debates over how much information the database should include.

Advocates for the database want the records to stretch back to the beginning of an officer's career. Whether the database becomes a reality in its currently imagined form remains to be seen. Regardless of its fate, this unique approach provides an opportunity for employers to reflect on their policies. What if the public could look up the background checks and disciplinary records of everyone in your business? What would they think?

What is in a background check does not always reflect a person's progress and rehabilitation. Many businesses hire individuals with criminal backgrounds, sometimes even when the charges are quite serious. However, transparency can be an important part of the process. Applying the same standards evenly across the entire workforce is important, too. 

Consider another aspect of this hypothetical scenario in which the public can see the background checks for your staff. Would the public see something sooner than you did? How well do you know your team besides the workplace? Just because someone passes a background check and appears suitable upon hiring, it doesn't exclude the possibility that they could commit criminal acts later.

Ongoing criminal monitoring has a growing importance in the business world. Many employers have realized that protecting their business and the public from potential negligence is a continuous effort, not a one-time job. Ongoing monitoring services inform employers when one of their staff members enters the criminal justice system, such as when a court formally charges them with a crime. Taking action based on these changing circumstances could be key to safeguarding your company.

The good news is that private employers don't need to worry about broadcasting their hiring processes to the public—but there are lessons here. Transparency in applying background check policies is key to building trust, and companies must remain vigilant even after hiring. These steps are vital for earning the public's confidence.

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Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments

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