from the snowflakes-in-bulletproof-vests dept
Last Wednesday, the House passed the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act,” a bill that targets a number of aspects of law enforcement that need improvement, including two that have caused a considerable amount of collateral damage.
The bill [PDF] — passed by the Democratic majority 220-212 with all but one member of either party voting the way you’d expect them to vote — bans discriminatory profiling, mandates more training on discrimination, and requires law enforcement agencies to collect data on investigatory activities. It also bans chokeholds and no-knock warrants, both instruments of death still permitted by far too many law enforcement agencies. The on-again, off-again limits on the requisition of military gear via the 1033 program are back on.
There are also mandates for federal officers, finally requiring their use of body cams and dashcams — something they’ve avoided doing for years.
But here are the accountability add-ons that are resulting in pushback from law enforcement agencies, their supporters, and (of course) their unions.
Makes it easier to prosecute offending officers by amending the federal criminal statute to prosecute police misconduct. The mens rea requirement in 18 U.S.C. Section 242 will be amended from “willfulness” to a “recklessness” standard.
Enables individuals to recover damages in civil court when law enforcement officers violate their constitutional rights by eliminating qualified immunity for law enforcement.
Officers really don’t want to be held accountable for their actions. Thanks to the US Supreme Court, they’ve been able to avoid personal responsibility with relative ease for years now. Citizens have been able to sue government employees for rights violations since 1871, following the passage of the Ku Klux Klan Act. The Supreme Court didn’t create the qualified immunity defense until 1967. So, for nearly 100 years, law enforcement agencies at both the state and federal level operated without this shield and, despite its nonexistence, were not swamped with bad faith litigation.
But the complaints emanating from these agencies following the House’s passage of this bill could give listeners the impression this litigation shield has always existed and that any alterations to it would open the litigation floodgates. And the constant threat of litigation would have other negative effects, like deterring people from entering the law enforcement field.
But let’s go back to the vote. One Republican rep who voted the “wrong” way swiftly ran to the nearest social media outlet to make sure his voter base knew he never intended to support police accountability efforts.
The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, H.R. 1280, passed 220-212 — although a Republican representative said he’d voted yes by mistake and changed the official record to reflect his opposition.
Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Texas, tweeted that he’d pressed the wrong button and voted for the bill by accident.
Virtue signaling but for avoiding virtuous acts. Nicely done, Rep. Wrong Button.
The bill passed the House, which is held by the Democratic Party. The party has a slim majority in the Senate which may not be enough to move this legislation forward. Nevertheless, the complaints have begun to roll in. And, as is to be expected when legislators target something created out of thin air that solely benefits law enforcement, law enforcement is complaining about the possibility of it evaporating back from whence it came.
The Placer County Deputy Sheriffs Association president says a majority of law enforcement officials are following the rules and if the bill passes, getting rid of qualified immunity will just end up hurting good officers.
“Bad police officers should be held accountable. That’s something we can all agree with. The language in this bill, isn’t a step in that direction,” said Deputy Noah Frederito.
But bad officers aren’t held accountable very often. And this neglect often begins in the agencies that employ them. Qualified immunity tends to ensure they won’t be held accountable in other arenas law enforcement doesn’t directly control. Bad officers get sued. Good officers won’t — or at least, they won’t be sued successfully, even in the absence of qualified immunity. In fact, most officers are never sued, so it tends to be the baddest of the bad that find themselves in court trying to explain why violating rights was the best way to conduct law enforcement business.
Here’s the National Association of Police Officers with a similar complaint, one that says it’s almost impossible for officers to figure out what citizens’ rights are and/or how to avoid violating them. It’s an appeal to idiocy, written by idiots.
With the change to qualified immunity, an officer can go to prison for an unintentional act that unknowingly broke an unknown, and unknowable, right. Further, the threat of the elimination of qualified immunity has already caused decent, experienced officers and newly hired officers alike to question whether the risks of the profession are worth the noble job of serving and protecting their communities.
It’s pretty sad when you openly admit that increased accountability will result in fewer people opting for a law enforcement career. It’s almost as if the thing that attracts applicants is the combination of increased power over citizens and extremely limited accountability, rather than any sense of duty to their communities.
Here’s another union rep saying pretty much the same thing:
“They want to take our Qualified Immunity away, and we’re totally against that.”
John Kazanjian, who also serves as the President of the Palm Beach and Martin County PBAs, says it would lead to a slew of lawsuits being filed against individual officers.
“So when they take that away, next thing you know I put a set of handcuffs on somebody, they get bruising on their wrists (and) we’re getting sued.”
Yes, the existential threat of bullshit lawsuits — one that Kanzanjian somehow manages to portray as a defunding effort by Congressional Democrats, despite there being no defunding mandated by the law.
He says, in essence, the legislation that’s named after the black man who died while in police custody in Minneapolis last May, would wind up defunding the police. That’s because, with individual officers potentially facing costly law suits, agencies would have to spend a portion of their funding on lawyers to defend them.
This is something some already do. And it’s not even their money. It’s the taxpayers’ money. That it often comes from city/county funds rather than the departments themselves doesn’t change the fact that the money comes from taxpayers. If it starts coming from police departments themselves, it’s still not their money and it’s still an expense agencies should do everything to limit, which means cultivating a positive police culture rather than just shrugging off misconduct allegations and excessive force deployments.
Others are making the same disingenuous arguments about “defunding the police,” knowing that this phrasing conjures images of cop shops going broke and criminals running wild. More importantly, it harms their political opponents.
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, repeated one of those attacks on Thursday, asserting that the bill would “defund the police” by imposing “mountains of new regulations” that would drain departments’ resources. The attack sought to conflate the House Democrats’ effort with calls by progressive activists to shrink or otherwise pull resources from departments — which the lawmakers in Washington who crafted the bill explicitly rejected.
“Democrats just doubled down as the party of Defunding the Police,” Mr. McCarthy wrote on Twitter.
Again, nothing in this bill strips funds from law enforcement agencies. It does require them to use some of their funds to meet training and reporting mandates, but moving money around isn’t the same thing as taking money away.
Two Iowa Congressional reps made the same specious argument two different ways. Here’s Representative Ashely Hinson:
Law enforcement officers in Iowa and across this country put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe. It’s reprehensible that House Democrats would bring forward legislation to defund police departments while relying on law enforcement to protect our Capitol from imminent threats…
And here’s Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks:
The Justice in Policing Act would eliminate qualified immunity, which would make recruitment and retention difficult and increase retirements, decrease the number of officers on patrol, and cost taxpayer dollars municipalities litigate frivolous lawsuits. In effect, this is a backdoor way to defund the police.
Again, no defunding takes place. The second statement is worse, because it again suggests people get into the cop business to access power that’s tied to very limited responsibility. When that balance shifts to something a bit more equal, those originally drawn to the more favorable power/responsibility blend exit the workforce. But cops leaving (or failing to ever arrive) isn’t “defunding.”
The opposition is making their voices heard. And their voices are saying they have no interest in holding cops accountable because… accountability apparently keeps people from becoming cops and keeps employed cops from continuing to be cops. That’s a pretty sad admission.
Filed Under: george floyd, police, police brutality, qualified immunity