New York City Council Passes Police Reforms That Includes Ending Qualified Immunity For NYPD Officers

from the get-more-accountability-using-this-ONE-SIMPLE-TRICK dept

Qualified immunity is pure judicial cancer. This fact cannot be ignored. What began as a limited defense for decisions made in the heat of the moment has become the de facto response to civil rights lawsuits. The Supreme Court -- which conjured this new Section 1983 ejection seat out of thin air -- has only made it worse over the past few decades.

Qualified immunity is more bulletproof than the Kevlar vests worn by those who summon its protections most frequently. Efforts have been made to dial this back, but so far, we've yet to see them come to fruition.

Attempts to remove qualified immunity have faced massive amounts of opposition from some of the most powerful entities in the United States: law enforcement agencies and their unions. Despite this, efforts continue to be made to rein in something that has pretty much become a permission slip for rights violations.

The good news (via MagentaRocks) is that one ongoing effort to end immunity targets the largest law enforcement agency in the nation: the New York City Police Department. This package of reforms offers up some other useful changes, like requiring NYPD officers to live in the city and mandating quarterly reports on vehicle stops, broken down by ethnicity, race, and age. It also would strip the police commissioner of final say on cases recommended for discipline by the Civilian Complaint Review Board. This would prevent CCRB recommendations from being overturned by the NYPD, something that has happened with alarming frequency in the past.

But here's the big news: the end of qualified immunity for NYPD officers.

Sponsored by Brooklyn Councilman Stephen Levin, Intro. 2220-A ends qualified immunity for police officers, which gives officers an exemption for civil lawsuits unless proven by the plaintiff that the officer’s action directly violated civil rights.

The council’s legislation gives “a local right of security against unreasonable search and seizure,” in addition to excessive force.

Of course, this would be limited to cases handled solely by New York City courts. Federal civil rights lawsuits wouldn't be affected by this removal. Nor would cases handled by state courts. So, it will only affect a small number of lawsuits pursued entirely within the city's court system.

Since city lawmakers are limited to crafting laws that affect the city, this is the best they can do. It's better than doing nothing and it will help, even if it's severely limited. And the bill still needs to be signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has offered his support for some police reforms, but hasn't exactly shown he's willing to take on the NYPD during his tenure in office.

It's a very small (but positive) change. But as small as it is, it's not small enough to keep the city's law enforcement unions from complaining about it.

The city’s police unions have vocally opposed the bill, saying ending qualified immunity could have a chilling effect on officer’s willingness to insert themselves into complex and dangerous situations to enforce the law.

I don't think that's true. Good officers will still insert themselves into these situations. Officers who like to play fast and loose with rights and civil liberties may choose to sit some of these situations out. Qualified immunity hasn't given us better, smarter cops. It has encouraged abusive behavior by giving officers a litigation escape hatch -- one that's rarely denied by courts.

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Filed Under: nyc, nypd, qualified immunity


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  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 1 Apr 2021 @ 3:31pm

    Make it nationwide.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 1 Apr 2021 @ 4:15pm

    If you didn't want to lose it you shouldn't have misused it

    The city’s police unions have vocally opposed the bill, saying ending qualified immunity could have a chilling effect on officer’s willingness to insert themselves into complex and dangerous situations to enforce the law.

    It was accurate right until the end, as I'm sure the idea that they might have to face accountability for their actions would have a chilling effect on the NYPD's willingness to break the law and violate rights/lives, but enforcing the law? If a cop is such a gutless coward that they fear that they might face a lawsuit, paid for by other people and dismissed in short order for 'enforcing the law' then they have no business being in a job that requires any sort of thinking on their part, and they'd be much better off working a simple service job like burger flipping where they just take orders and do what they're told.

    If police in the US didn't want to see the legal abomination of QI taken away then they shouldn't have abused it to such an extent that politicians were willing to stand up to police to take it away. This is entirely on them and it is more than overdue, and it is something that every single state should put into place or even better should be done on a national level because US police have shown that much like their other tools and powers they cannot be trusted to act responsibly with this one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2021 @ 5:04pm

      Re: If you didn't want to lose it you shouldn't have misused it

      What they are saying is, "Heh, we'll be to scared to get involved in certain situations where harm might come to someone we don't care about. That's some nice breathing you've got there, be a shame if something happened to it."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JMT (profile), 1 Apr 2021 @ 6:03pm

    Just an idea

    "...ending qualified immunity could have a chilling effect on officer’s willingness to insert themselves into complex and dangerous situations to enforce the law."

    Maybe you should recruit and train better cops then. As a bonus they might earn some of that respect you think they're owed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 1 Apr 2021 @ 6:03pm

    "ending qualified immunity could have a chilling effect on officer’s willingness to insert themselves into complex and dangerous situations to enforce the law."

    Yes like shooting people in their own homes, killing people in the middle of a mental health crisis, running over protestors, beating journalists, the list goes on but I can only handle so much sad.

    Heaven forbid they have to take a second to consider if what they are about to do, or let their mob brothers do, to a citizen isn't the right thing.

    I've often wished we could secretly VR record the average stop of POC & then let elected leaders spend time with a gun pointed at their head for a taillight being out to understand it really is a problem even if it never happens to them or their loved ones.

    As much as they love to talk about accountability...

    Citizen Reviews don't exist, don't have the power to get information, and can be overruled before they even rule.

    Courts just say well no one ever explained that shoving a baton into a persons ass was violating a clearly defined right.

    There is no recourse for citizens who have been wronged because everything meant to protect them has been made toothless because it hurts officers feelings.

    If you knew you could rob, beat, kill & the worst that is going to happen is a couple vacation days taken away or a paid vacation... whats stopping them from doing it again and again?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Tanner Andrews (profile), 3 Apr 2021 @ 3:19pm

      One Reason QI Remains the Law

      then let elected leaders spend time with a gun pointed at their head for a taillight being out

      Legislators have special tags on their cars so that the cops are alerted. I think that in some states, mayors also have that. It is possible that other officials may give off similar warnings in order to avoid unfortunate incidents.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2021 @ 5:13am

    the primary jobs of the police are to enforce the law and to protect the people. unfortunately, sometimes it includes putting them in positions of danger and if they're not prepared to do that, they are better off employed elsewhere. it's like someone becoming a soldier and not then prepared to do what soldiers are expected to do to defend their country and citizens. unfortunately, part of the job includes a danger of being shot or blown up

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2021 @ 5:07pm

      Re:

      Part of the issue with cops is their "putting our lives on the line every day" shtick, when that is hardly true. Many other professions have much more dangerous jobs than police. Sanitation workers, for instance. Those folks don't have a lot of magic extra rights and privileges because of potential dangers in their profession.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 2 Apr 2021 @ 11:51am

    Of course, this would be limited to cases handled solely by New York City courts. Federal civil rights lawsuits wouldn't be affected by this removal. Nor would cases handled by state courts. So, it will only affect a small number of lawsuits pursued entirely within the city's court system.

    State court: We find for the plaintiff.

    Cops: We appeal!

    Federal court: The cops get a free pass, case dismissed!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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