Police Reform Without Qualified Immunity Reform Is Worthless
The bulk of the American public supports qualified immunity reform. It’s not hard to see why: The legal doctrine allows state officials to violate your constitutional rights without fear of being sued. It has emboldened cops to commit some shocking misdeeds: killing innocent people, shooting children, beating people needlessly, and outright stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars. It is at the very foundation of our culture of police un-accountability, which destroys trust and makes it more difficult for good officers to do their jobs.
So, naturally, the Senate has reportedly taken reform off the table, according to three people familiar with the discussions.
The proposal was part of the Justice in Policing Act, the legislation in the works since the death of George Floyd. Outright abolishing the doctrine was always a tough sell among Republicans. But Sen Tim Scott (R–S.C.), who is leading GOP negotiations, floated a compromise that would make law enforcement departments, not individual officers, liable for misconduct claims.
Though his proposal frustrated advocates who want to see more individual accountability, others thought it might be a decent middle ground, as many cities already indemnify officers against having to pay damages: out of $730 million in judgments awarded to police conduct plaintiffs between 2006 to 2011, individual officers paid a grand total of 0.02 percent, according to Joanna Schwartz, a law professor at UCLA, who surveyed 44 of the largest police agencies across the U.S.
But last month, we learned the National Sheriffs’ Association met with Scott and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R–S.C.); they objected to the idea that their departments would have to take the heat for the actions of supposed rogue officers. Shortly thereafter, the National Association of Police Organizations sent its members a message headlined “Urgent, Action Needed! Senator Booker Proposes Horrible Police Reform Bill.”
Law enforcement groups claim that abolishing or even limiting qualified immunity in any meaningful way would s
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