New York, NY — In an unprecedented move, the New York City Council has passed sweeping legislation that sets out to increase accountability by removing qualified immunity, ushering in a new era for police accountability.
As TFTP has reported, in New York City alone, a lawsuit is filed against the NYPD every 2.5 hours. This has cost the taxpayers of New York billions of dollars over the years. This has to change.
Police officers, even when found at fault for their abusive actions, are almost never held personally liable. It is the taxpayers who foot the bill. However, all that is about to change.
Over the years, New York courts have created their own version of qualified immunity which has shielded cops from accountability who have clearly caused harm and violated the rights of individuals.
For those who may be unaware, qualified immunity is a legal doctrine in United States federal law that shields government officials from being sued for discretionary actions performed within their official capacity, unless their actions violated “clearly established” federal law or constitutional rights.
The Supreme Court created qualified immunity in 1982. With that novel invention, the court granted all government officials immunity for violating constitutional and civil rights unless the victims of those violations can show that the rights were “clearly established.”
An example of this would be the family of George Floyd attempting to seek compensation for his death. Because there has never been a “clearly established” case of a cop kneeling on a man’s neck until he dies being declared unconstitutional, a judge in Minnesota could have easily dismissed their case.
It is essentially a get out of jail free card for bad cops and it perpetuates the problem of police violence by giving them a free pass.
In New York, however, the problem was even worse as they tweaked the doctrine to help bad cops out even more.
"Together, the State and federal versions of qualified immunity have effectively prevented countless victims of police brutality and their families from obtaining financial damages and holding officers and the cities that employ them accountable," the New York City Council said in a statement.
The Council’s legislation effectively ends qualified immunity for police officers in New York City by creating a new local civil right protecting New Yorkers against unreasonable search and seizures and against excessive force and ban the use of qualified immunity, or substantially equivalent immunities, as a defense.
The Council also allows for the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) to investigate police with a history of bias and racial profiling complaints. It also gives the board the final recommendation as to whether or not that person can remain a cop. Before this was enacted this week, the police commissioner had the right to disregard recommendations from the CCRB, effectively neutering the organization.
This is why it was so hard to get officer Daniel Pantaleo fired after he murdered Eric Garner on video.
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Naturally, the current police commissioner, Dermot Shea, is upset about not having the final word as to whether or not cops are fired.
"Right now, the commissioner hires them, trains them, asks them to go in harm's way to keep New Yorkers safe and if an officer breaks the rules, I discipline them and if necessary fire them," Shea said. "If I am not doing that the right way, I am accountable. The buck stops here. To take that away from the Commissioner, ask yourself who has the accountability then?"
The answer to that question is easy, Shea, the people do.
The notorious police apologist and New York City Police Benevolent Association (PBA) President Patrick Lynch, expressed his outrage over the people daring to hold his cops accountable with this legislation.
"New Yorkers are getting shot and police officers are out on the street, all day and all night, trying to stop the bloodshed," Lynch said. "Where are these City Council members? Safe at home, hiding behind their screens and dreaming up new ways to give criminals a free pass. It won't get better unless New Yorkers shame the politicians into doing their job."
But holding cops accountable for crimes against citizens does not make people less safe. Everything he is saying is wrong as this actually makes the people safer.
"We believe the plan ratified today by the City Council reflects the themes brought forward with reforms that center squarely on bringing an end to such policing, the criminalization of poverty, and the lack of transparency and accountability in the NYPD," a statement from the Collaborative Co-Sponsors Jennifer Jones Austin, Wes Moore, and Arva Rice said. "We know there is more to be done. Now the work begins to implement this plan without delay, and ensure that the City's budget is fully aligned."
Others, who examined the legislation more closely, say that it doesn't go far enough and they wanted an investment into non-police resources — which was not part of this legislation.
"Mayor de Blasio had a genuine opportunity to implement urgently needed policing reforms," said Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society. "He failed to do that and instead produced a plan that at best glosses over the deeply rooted systemic problems within the NYPD that plague the New Yorkers we serve."
An example of non-police resources can be found in Denver, which began the Support Team Assistance Response (STAR) program. STAR sends a mental health professional and a paramedic to some 911 calls instead of cops. When we first reported on the program in October, their results were fantastic. Now, it seems that departments who continue the old way are doing a disservice to the mentally ill.
According to their latest data, STAR has responded to more than 2,500 calls to 911 in which police would have normally been sent out. The STAR team — armed only with experience and compassion — has never once called police to back them up and no one was ever arrested.
They have settled every single call without killing someone, beating them, ruining their lives, or using violence. Imagine that.