Police reform legislation is being debated nationally and locally, begging the question: Is it needed?
Incontrovertibly yes, because a huge percentage of our people have concluded as much. One Gallup poll showed 58 percent of Americans say policing needs major changes; only six percent say no changes are needed. To be clear, in our democracy, if the majority of our lawmakers conclude all police should be replaced with 70-something-year-old grandmothers who show up to crime scenes with hugs and afternoon tea, then that is what we will have. The people have the last word and law enforcement must always remember that they serve only with our authority, the power we give them, and at our discretion. So, we can set aside the “if” and focus on the what reform will look like.
Personally, if my family calls 9-1-1, I want an immediate response of highly trained police prepared to handle all situations. They are truly the thin blue line protecting the public from the degenerates amongst us. Defunding police departments is foolish, commensurate to defunding fire departments to have fewer fires. The defunding movement of Black Live Matter (BLM) and radical leftist politicians is popular with very few; 82 percent of Americans oppose reducing their police budgets, including 72 percent of Black Americans. Yet Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has called for the complete dismantling of the Minneapolis Police Department, and for a while their city council vowed to do just that; Council President Lisa Bender stated, “We must disband the police.”
When violent crime rates spiked 25 percent, however, the disband/defund movement collapsed. Nationally, many cities have slashed police department budgets, and most all have seen alarming spikes in crime. It’s a bad idea and should be summarily dismissed. Police reform doesn’t mean getting rid of the police department, it means changing some tactics, and that can be a good thing.
Of course, there is politics … Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) led a reform bill push in 2020, but the Democrats blocked it by filibuster. Now in control of all the reins of power, Democrats are proposing new reform legislation, with only their radical wing like Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez still supporting defunding. They are working directly with Scott to find agreement, which is positive. What will it look like? There may be bans on chokeholds, “no-knock” warrants and limitations on qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity may be the most controversial reform with the greatest potential impacts, but what is it? 42 USC statute 1983 allows private individuals to sue government officials for monetary damages if they violate their constitutional rights.
Qualified immunity was created by the courts to prevent police from being intimidated by potential lawsuits from doing their difficult jobs, but it has morphed into a real problem. By example, in 2017, the U.S. Sixth District Court of Appeals ruled that officer Lowell Phillips violated the Constitution when he shot and killed a fleeing suspect, who wasn’t threatening anyone else. Phillips violated his department’s procedures and was fired, but the court still shielded him from a federal civil rights lawsuit because “Caselaw … did not clearly establish the objective unreasonableness of Phillip’s actions.” So, even when the court finds an officer violated a citizen’s Constitutional rights, qualified immunity can and often does shield them from damages.
What started out as steps taken to shield officers so that they can perform their duties, may have morphed into a monster perpetuating bad cops.
Interestingly, two polar opposites on the Supreme Court, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Clarence Thomas, both have problems with qualified immunity; Sotomayor asserts it “guts the deterrent effect of the Fourth Amendment, while Thomas urges his court to “reconsider” this jurisprudence.
This important reform should come from our lawmakers. We should support our amazing law enforcement agencies and the special people who wear the badge, but our laws on qualified immunity need reform so that the occasional abusive officers can be held accountable.
Our people are clamoring for reform, and universally holding everyone accountable to the Constitution is a good place to start.