Virginia Democrats Declined To End Qualified Immunity. Police Unions Are Alive and Well.
The Virginia Senate last week passed a comprehensive police reform package that would prohibit the use of no-knock warrants and chokeholds in the majority of cases and make it easier for departments to decertify rogue cops. One thing was noticeably absent, though: a ban on qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity makes it exceedingly difficult to sue public officials when they violate your rights, as it requires that any alleged misconduct be outlined almost identically in a previous court precedent. The doctrine has come under fire from all sides of the political spectrum. In June, Rep. Justin Amash (L–Mich.), joined by Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D–Mass.) and several other Democratic members of Congress, introduced a bill in the U.S. House that would have abolished qualified immunity (though it has not received a vote and will likely die without one).
Virginia’s House passed a separate bill to end qualified immunity earlier this month, but the legislation met its demise in the state Senate last Thursday. Interestingly, Virginia’s governing bodies are both controlled by Democrats, which should in theory make it easy to abolish qualified immunity when considering that many high-profile Democrats and a hefty majority of the American public support ending the doctrine.
But Virginia Democrats’ decision to punt on the issue puts them more in line with moderates in the Republican Party—a testament to the power of the law enforcement lobby.
“It’s a big problem,” said Sen. Scott Surovell (D–Fairfax). “I want to do something about it.” But Surovell opposed the recent measure to end qualified immunity, and one need not look far to figure out why. Virginia lawmakers crafting the bill met with police unions “probably six or eight times” and implemented amendments accordingly, said Wayne Huggins, executive director of the Virginia State Police Association, a union representing people in law enforcement, at a press conference last Thursday. “The greatest threat to our profession is the proposed elimination of qualified immunity,” added Maggie DeBoard, the first vice president chief of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, another police union. “There is a myth being perpetuated that qualified immunity protects bad cops. It does not, and it has not protected any of the bad cops that I have been a part of firing or separating in my 34 years in the job.”
DeBoard might gain new perspective on that if she were to
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