Hawaii is nowhere close to licensing police officers, but that hasn’t stopped other states from trying to boost oversight and accountability in response to national discussions about the role of law enforcement in our communities.

The Boston Herald reports that Massachusetts is considering a certification program for cops that would set statewide standards for officers as well as help ensure that problem officers can’t bounce from department to department.

Several groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and the Massachusetts Black & Latino Legislative Caucus, are behind the push.

Major stands giving speech at the opening of the new Honolulu Police Department, Waianae station.

Police officers in Hawaii don’t have to be certified the way doctors, lawyers or massage therapists do before going to work.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Hawaii has considered similar measures in the past, but the Legislature has continually failed to act despite widespread concern about officer misconduct.

Forty-Four states already have licensing and certification protocols similar to those established for other professions, such as teachers, doctors, lawyers and hair stylists. And every state besides Hawaii has a statewide standards and training board that sets the minimum requirements for being a law enforcement officer.

Tuesday’s Boston Herald story quoted Saint Louis University Professor Roger Goldman on the importance of certification and the need for police buy-in on the practice. Goldman is a leading expert on police licensing, and has worked on implementing certification programs in several states, including Hawaii.

“There’s just a lot of interest in the idea that we ought to think about licensing for police the way that we do for 150 other professions that we just take for granted,” Goldman told the news organization. “You’re going to be able to have some way to get rid of some officers or other professionals who just shouldn’t be in the field.”

Goldman points to events in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere as the impetus for renewed interest in police certification, particularly in Massachusetts. But he added that for any program to take hold it will require the backing of law enforcement and should not be seen as anti-police.

“That’s why the leadership of this effort has to come from the police professionals themselves,” Goldman said. “Otherwise it will look like it’s an anti-police approach and that’s the opposite. So you can get support from ACLU and other groups, but the leadership has to come from within the profession. If it does not, there is no chance it’s gonna get through.”

The Hawaii Legislature is currently considering a bill that would establish a board to develop statewide standards for employment and training for state and county law enforcement officers who carry firearms and wear badges.

That measure, Senate Bill 2755, does not address police certification and licensing.

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