NYC Axes Qualified Immunity for Police

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Photo courtesy @gianviphotos

Brittany James | Civil Patriot

New York City doesn’t seem to like their police force.

Of the many changes coming for the NYPD, their qualified immunity is the latest to take a hit.

Police officers make split second decisions every day with the intent to uphold their oath to protect and serve. Each call for help is different from the last, they never know what the situation will entail. They have to constantly ask themselves, “What kind of people will we be dealing with? How will this all unfold?”

Police and other government workers are given room to make decisions without facing the possibility of a lawsuit. For officers, this means they can focus on diffusing the situation, protecting those involved and their constitutional rights, and go home safely. This room to think is called qualified immunity.

Qualified immunity gives the benefit of the doubt to the first officer to run across a new situation upon which the courts have yet to rule on regarding constitutionality. It protects “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.” (Malley v. Briggs, US Supreme Court).

In current society, qualified immunity is being touted as a blanket of protection over law enforcement. Basically saying, an officer can do whatever they want and not be sued, including being racist. This is a blatant lie. Unfortunately, New York City doesn’t see it that way.

City Councilman Corey Johnson took to Twitter to praise the action his council took last Thursday in approving the bill to revoke qualified immunity for the police. He said, “Qualified immunity was established in 1967 in Mississippi to prevent Freedom Riders from holding public officials liable even when they broke the law. Rooted in our nation’s history of systemic racism, qualified immunity denied Freedom Riders justice and has been used to deny justice to victims of police abuse for decades. It should never have been allowed, but I’m proud that we took action today to end it here in NYC.”

Other council members disagree. Councilman Robert Holden voted no, saying, “Ending qualified immunity will prevent the best young men and women in our city from joining the police force.”

In any profession, there are people who do not uphold the standards of the job, and that is because jobs are filled by human beings. The job of policing is no different. Police forces have more honorable people than they have people who are looking to bend the rules. These honorable men and women in uniform deserve the benefit of the doubt when making split-second decisions. Especially in today’s society when they are the target of so much hatred and ill-will.

Don Mihalek, a director for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, explained it as such, “Qualified immunity is an essential part of the law enforcement profession. While it shields officers from erroneous and professionally damaging lawsuits, it does not erase responsibility. At any point in time an agency determines the office was acting out of policy or unlawfully, qualified immunity could be removed, and them exposed to full liability. The public often confuses lawful actions by law enforcement versus public perception. What is lawful may not be clear in the public’s view. This is why an investigation is paramount to document the lawfulness of an officer’s actions.”

All things considered, the irony of what NYC is doing is that this bill only revokes qualified immunity for police. Other government workers are still entitled to their qualified immunity. If the immunity was so horrible and stripping the public of their rights, it should be abolished completely. 

Clearly, their problem is the police, not their qualified immunity rights.

 

 

 

 

 

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