New York Congresswoman Thinks It's Too Hard To Be A Good Cop, Offers Up Bill That Would Codify Qualified Immunity

from the soon-to-be-perennial-bad-ida dept

Last summer, following the George Floyd killing, members of Congress introduced the Justice in Policing Act of 2020. Among other reforms, the bill (since renamed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act) attempted to bring an end to qualified immunity, the Supreme Court-created legal doctrine that allows officers to escape civil rights lawsuits if the court decides no existing precedent would have put them on notice that the violation of rights they committed was actually a violation of rights.

This doctrine has made it extremely easy for officers to escape accountability for their actions. If there’s no case pretty much on point, the cop walks. While the Supreme Court has recently reconsidered its demands for cases on point, the prevailing rule pretty much still stands: as long as rights are violated in new ways, the rights violation must be suffered by the victim with no hope of compensation. In most cases, this also means the courts never get around to deciding this new violation of rights is a rights violation, so officers remain free to pretend they don’t know any better.

It’s a terrible system and it needs to be changed. Legislation could do it. This legislation apparently can’t, though. After being passed by the House on June 25th of last year, it went to the Senate to die. The bill has not moved forward since being placed on the Senate’s legislative calendar more than a year ago.

Some Congressional reps, however, think qualified immunity is a good thing. They believe police officers just don’t have enough protections, even with their unions, large number of powerful political backers, their own set of rights, and the ability to just walk away from the job rather than be punished for their misconduct.

Representative Claudia Tenney (New York) is one of those people. Despite facing no serious threat to the doctrine of qualified immunity, Tenney is seeking to have the Supreme Court’s doctrine codified into law, preventing the court from walking it back at a future date. It also would punish any local governments that fail to “respect” law enforcement with the same fervor Tenney does.

Congresswoman Claudia Tenney (NY-22) today unveiled details of her legislation, the Local Law Enforcement Protection Act, that protects qualified immunity for police officers serving at the state and local level.

Tenney’s bill would prevent state and local governments that remove qualified immunity protections for police from applying for certain federal grants.

Still not sold? Here’s more from Tenney, who appears ready to elevate each and every law enforcement officer into sainthood.

“Our Law Enforcement Officers put their lives on the line every day at great personal risk. In the last year alone, police have faced unprecedented challenges like the pandemic and increasing crime. Accountability and transparency are vital, but removing qualified immunity achieves neither. It opens police officers to unfair and frivolous attacks simply for doing their jobs. At a time when activists and politicians in Washington are demonizing and defunding our police, I’m honored to stand with them to deliver the resources and support to keep our communities safe,” said Congresswoman Tenney.

One can almost imagine the red, white, but mostly blue flag flying behind her as Tenney boldly stands up for people with an immense amount of power that have, for years, barely been reined in by almost nonexistent accountability. No one’s saying law enforcement isn’t a difficult job. We just want law enforcement officers to do this job better and be accountable for their actions when they do it wrong. A litigation ejection seat only government employees can use hasn’t done anything for accountability or transparency, so if these concepts are actually important to Rep. Tenney, maybe it’s time to strip away the barrier to accountability erected by the Supreme Court.

But there’s more. Tenney also drops this truth bomb:

The past two years have marked the deadliest period for law enforcement in decades. In 2020 alone, 264 police officers died in the line of duty. So far this year, at least 148 officers have tragically died.

What’s deliberately left unsaid here is that the past two years were the deadliest period for pretty much all of humanity in decades. Law enforcement couldn’t escape COVID either. Here’s what’s left out of this selective statement:

Of the 264 officers who have died in the line of duty, there were 145 confirmed Covid-19 cases.

COVID-related deaths are 55% of that total. Tenney’s effort to spin a narrative that it’s more dangerous out there for cops than it’s been in decades also ignores this factoid:

Forty-eight officers were shot and killed during the year compared to 51 during the same period in 2019, resulting in a 6% decrease.

It’s not getting worse, in terms of the normal dangers of the job. It’s still about the same as it’s been for several years, which have seen historic lows in both the killing of officers by suspected criminals and crime rates in general. To read this in the context of Tenney’s heated comments, it would appear officers actually need a little less protection than they’ve needed historically. Why not start with the end of qualified immunity?

As is to be expected, a long line of law enforcement officials have offered their support for the bill, which directly caters to their interests. That’s a natural reaction, albeit one that does nothing to bridge the gap between them and the people they’re supposed to be serving. Rep. Tenney would prefer to serve the interests of other government employees, and that’s not going to bridge any gaps either. This redundant bill is a yet-to-be-drafted sermon that aims to only engage with the already-converted. Hopefully, it will be ignored in the order it is received.

UPDATE: via Techdirt reader Thad comes this correction. The bill is alive but it in its original form, originating in the House this time:

HR7120 hasn’t been sitting on the Senate calendar since June 2020; it sat on the Senate calendar from June 2020 until it died in January 2021.

However, the House passed a new version of the bill, HR1280. And it’s been sitting on the Senate calendar since March.

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Comments on “New York Congresswoman Thinks It's Too Hard To Be A Good Cop, Offers Up Bill That Would Codify Qualified Immunity”

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29 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Not a high bar unless you're really corrupt and/or incompetent

If ‘following the law and respecting the rights and lives of the public’ is considered an impossible standard for police to meet that’s not a problem with the standard it’s a problem with the cops because most of the public seems to have no problem with meeting it and those that don’t/won’t are usually considered ‘criminals’.

Every other job out there has to deal with frivolous lawsuits and yet by and large they seem to do just fine, if Tenny truly wants to reduce the ability for people to ‘harass’ police with those then the proper target is to reform the legal system not make police immune to any sort of accountability and then lie about how important accountability is.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Noises I’ve been hearing is that Trump is still the front runner and has raised a ridiculous mount of money for his PACs recently, so he’s not out of the running for the next general election.

I’m in two minds here. On one hand, I’d be happy to never see or hear from him ever again. One the other, if instead of regrouping and coming up with a competent fascist, they push him toward another election. Thus inspiring the people who voted last time to come out against him with even greater force, while his electoral base has been disproportionately reduced by their refusal to take basic pandemic precautions, ensuring that not only do the Republicans lose next time but that their opponents actually take a meaningful majority in the house and senate?

That’s almost worth the risk. Almost.

Michael says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

he’s not out of the running for the next general election

He absolutely WILL NOT run in the next election. He’s pretending he might in order to fleece dumb people and collect a massive amount of money so that he can skim. Hell, he’s already qualified his "I might run" statements with "if my doctor says it’s okay" in order to build in an excuse.

The idea that Trump would risk losing another election — this time most likely to a black woman — is ridiculous on its face. He’s not running for shit.

Marty says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Raising the VP to President is scarier than any other issue going on in 2021 and the future. Look deeply into Kamala Harris’ background especially her duties under Willie Brown and decipher who/what the person believes. In speeches she has laid claims to Pacific Islander, Black. Irish and other so called races. If people cannot deal with one race, human, things will remain divisive until implosion wrecks it all. Smoke, mirrors and politics becoming a career have, and continue to put our nation at risk. A trite saying has become reality in the halls of power, "Power corrupts, absolute power, absolutely."

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

The idea that Trump would risk losing another election — this time most likely to a black woman — is ridiculous on its face.

The idea of Trump running for president in the first goddamn place is ridiculous on its face. It was literally a joke on The Simpsons in 2000.

We’re way past "that couldn’t happen because it’s too silly".

I never thought Trump could win a primary. I didn’t think he’d win the general. And I didn’t think his party would still continue to support him after he lost reelection. I’ve been wrong enough times not to make any predictions about his chances in future elections.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Thad (profile) says:

The bill has not moved forward since being placed on the Senate’s legislative calendar more than a year ago.

Tim, this isn’t quite right. There was an election last year and a new congressional term started in January. HR7120 hasn’t been sitting on the Senate calendar since June 2020; it sat on the Senate calendar from June 2020 until it died in January 2021.

However, the House passed a new version of the bill, HR1280. And it’s been sitting on the Senate calendar since March.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And the least qualified most militarized officers who often went from high school to basic training to a war zone to a PD, who can’t comprehend doing anything that isn’t using violence to try and control "others", stick around for 40 years and end up being the ones who train the next generation.

Not sure if she was military, but that woman cop who shot an unarmed black man on a highway in Oklahoma in 2016 became a use of force instructor at an academy where she teaches officers how to "survive" similar incidents (and an NRA instructor too). She also teaches them she was only charged with a crime (acquitted at trial) because of the fabricated "Ferguson effect" which supposedly makes prosecutors unnecessarily charge cops with crimes because of protests. I’m sure hundreds of other cops with questionable on duty shootings occupy similar roles now too, hers was just widely publicized after the trial. Better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6 is a pervasive attitude in training.

Then we are told we need to retain the violent cop who never thinks about how their actions affect society instead of the cop who leaves and goes to law school or graduate school (or a new profession entirely) because they have come to agree that policing is broken while working within the system and leaving when they realize nothing is changing. Those cops are expendable to the department and its blind supporters, but they’re the one society desperately needs in policing.

For the time being cops leaving is a good thing. If youre already a cop and the thought of modifying qualified immunity strikes fear in you, then get out of policing immediately. If you are fearful that after you go to the academy laws may change that increase accountability and make the job too difficult, then don’t go to the academy. I’m perfectly content with a period of staffing shortages if it’s caused by bad cops voluntarily leaving. Hopefully someday we can reach a point where if you want to kill people with impunity you’ll need to go work for Blackwater. Then maybe we can deal with Blackwater after we’re done reforming law enforcement.

This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
AnomalousCowTurd says:

you are all missing the point!!! it about the immunity. that mean no more deaths from Covid, small pox, measles or any other virus. heck just think instead of them using a vaccine they could just pass an law to make us immunity.. well except for stupidity which she is suffering from.

Anonymous Coward says:

"Of the 264 officers who have died in the line of duty, there were 145 confirmed Covid-19 cases."

Arrghh – what does this even mean – 264 oficers who died whilst employed (in which case there may be 100 who suffered heart attacks at home plus 10 who keeled over from food poisoning whilst staffing the front desk), or 145 who had covid, but were out on duty anyway. Meaningless numbers and soundbite phrases muddying the waters (as per normal)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The actual war on cops takes place in the police officer’s home, where PTSD, often combined with alcohol, causes them to turn the gun on themselves.

Traffic fatalities (often caused by moronic chases) and heart attacks are serious problems too, but last time I checked the number of suicides outnumbered every single on duty death of natural/accidental/criminal causes combined.

David says:

Wouldn't it be much more efficient

to give everybody qualified immunity? That way we don’t need cops or courts any more.

I mean, what sense is there if officers of the law are not bound to the law? Those are the ones whose job is to maintain the law so they certainly should know what it is of all people? If they of all people are exempt from having a clue about the law, how are others supposed to fare better?

Upstream (profile) says:

Rights v privileges

their own set of rights

I know this is the terminology used by those who support such affronts, but the rest of us must always be mindful of the very important distinction between rights versus powers, privileges, and immunities.

Rights are things that we all have, in equal measure, simply by being human. Powers, privileges, and immunities are things that certain people are granted by other people. Whether the powers, privileges, and immunities that are granted are justifiable, and whether the granting itself is justifiable, can be topics of valid debate on a case by case basis, but the essential distinction always applies.

Misuse of words, such as in this instance, can lead to faulty thinking, pointless discussion, and erroneous conclusions by those who are misled, confused, or distracted (intentionally or not) by said misuse.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Rights v privileges

This is almost as insufferable of a semantics argument as the one about constitutional rights coming from god.

What exactly would you call a law enforcement bill of rights if it isn’t a list of rights only given to cops? I’m confident you aren’t complaining on the fraternal order of police Facebook page about how their advocacy for a LEO bill of rights is impossible because they can’t get extra rights (even though those rights are now part if the law in around 15 states).

Upstream (profile) says:

Re: Re: Rights v privileges

1) I am saying that rights and powers / privileges / immunities are profoundly distinct things, and if you do not understand the difference then you are not qualified to participate in any meaningful discussion of them. It is not simply a semantic distinction without a meaningful difference, by any means.

2) I am also saying that if these "Police Officer’s Bill(s) of Rights" were called by more accurate and correctly descriptive names, such as "Government Thug’s List of Absurd Privileges and Immunities That Only Serve to Encourage Egregious Criminal Behavior by Said Government Thugs," that there could also be more appropriate and meaningful discussions about them. Calling them a "Bill of Rights" intentionally and propagandistically distorts and distracts from any serious discussion of them, at least for many people.

amberlink says:

Claudia Tenney - Republican - who represents Upstate NY

perhaps leaving out particulars of this person like that she’s a republican, represents some pretty backwards areas of NY State, and that she’s an orange turd supporter, voted against the second impeachment, and thinks that the orange turd is ‘blameless" for the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Pretty much she’s an orange turd lackey.

Nothing what she could say would be valid to anyone who isn’t living with their head up the orange turd’s ass.

restless94110 (profile) says:

Immunity

Qualified immunity is NOT a protection against "bad" cops.

It IS a protection against frivolous law suits that any cop would be forced to spend 1000’s of dollars to defend against.

Try to understand.

Say that anything you write about anything would be subject to immediate and numerous law suits, each one you would have to defend using attorneys paid on your own dime.

That would curtail your writing and reporting. The same happens to law enforcement.

Thinking or writing that it is any thing else than the destruction of an occupation? That’s madness on your part.

Upstream (profile) says:

Re: Immunity

It IS a protection against frivolous law suits that any cop would be forced to spend 1000’s of dollars to defend against.

That was the excuse the SCOTUS used to create it. That is not what it is. It is an incentive for bad cops to do bad things by protecting them after they do those bad things. It is one of the cornerstones in the foundation of an authoritarian police state.

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