A law passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Janet Mills this week will create an independent panel to evaluate and make policy recommendations every time police use of deadly force results in a death or serious injury.

The 15-member group will be largely appointed by the attorney general, and will include defense attorneys, a civil rights organization, citizens and law enforcement officials. The law goes into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns, and the attorney general must name a chair and vice-chair and hold its first meeting before January 2020. The group will submit reports to the Legislature examining every shooting by police, and an aggregated annual report starting in January 2021.

Although other mandatory reviews of police shootings already occur, the panel is the first statewide body in New England with a mandate to critically evaluate police policies and procedures on a case-by-case basis.

The legislation was initially proposed by independent Rep. Jeff Evangelos of Friendship, who said he was motivated by high-profile officer-involved shootings throughout the country that have drawn intense media attention, and in some cases involved officers who lied or misled investigators about why and how they shot someone.

Police investigate after a woman was shot by police in South Berwick in 2014. A new law will subject every use of deadly force by police to a review by an independent panel made up of police, private citizens and others. Gordon Chibroski/Staff file photo

“I think it’s going to result in a lot of self-examination on the part of the law enforcement community that we can do better,” Evangelos said Thursday after a marathon legislative session that stretched from Wednesday night into early morning. “We have to give dialogue and discussion … a chance. We can’t shoot first and ask questions later.”

Evangelos said he was also moved by an incident in 2007 in which an 18-year-old from Waldoboro, Gregori Jackson, was shot by a reserve officer during a confrontation after a traffic stop. Jackson’s mother testified in support of the legislation. Attorney General Aaron Frey, whose office rewrote the bill and proposed the language that was passed into law, has also taken steps to re-examine Jackson’s death.


The panel will be composed of seven law enforcement figures, including the commissioner of public safety, the director of investigations for the Office of the Attorney General, representatives of a statewide police union, a criminal prosecutor, a municipal police chief and a county sheriff, and the director of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy.

Eight members will come from outside law enforcement: the chief medical examiner, two attorneys with federal civil rights litigation experience, a mental health professional, a representative of a statewide civil rights organization and three citizens who have never been sworn police officers.

Currently, the most consequential investigation following a police shooting is conducted by the Attorney General’s Office. Based on the facts of the case, the attorney general determines whether deadly force was legally justified. During the last 30 years, the Attorney General’s Office has investigated roughly 150 officer-involved shootings and has never determined that deadly force was unjustified.

By statute, the new review panel would examine a police shooting after the attorney general makes its determination. The panel’s work is confidential and not subject to open records requests; it also has the authority to demand documents and information, as well as to consult experts. The panel must submit its findings no more than 30 days after it completes its evaluation of each deadly force case, and file an annual report with the Legislature summarizing its activities.

No other state in New England performs such a comprehensive review. Boston’s district attorney, Rachel Rollins, has put in place a similar review panel to examine police shootings, but its authority extends only to Rollins’s jurisdiction of Boston, Revere, Chelsea and Winthrop. There is no statewide group examining shootings by police in Massachusetts.

Connecticut is close to enacting its own police shooting oversight reforms, but a bill that awaits approval by the governor does not create a statewide body to examine shootings and police policies. The measure, known as Public Act 19-90, requires police to collect and report gender, race and other information about all uses of force, including deadly force, that result in injuries, including what type of force was used and how many times, along with other narrow proposals, including a mandate to investigate uses of force that result in injury but not death. The Connecticut bill would also prohibit police from shooting at a fleeing car.

New Hampshire and Rhode Island do not have any statewide agency or group that evaluates police policies concerning officer-involved shootings, according to reviews of their policy and interviews with officials.


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