New York City Breaks Open Floodgates For Lawsuits Against Police Officers By Ending Immunity

(Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

Brianna Lyman News and Commentary Writer
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The New York City Council on Thursday passed a series of police reform laws, one of which ends qualified immunity for officers which protects them from civil lawsuits.

The council voted on five bills and three resolutions, all of which are designed to create more oversight and transparency into the department.

The council scrapped qualified immunity for officers by creating a new local civil right that protects New Yorkers from “unreasonable search and seizures and against excessive force and ban the use of qualified immunity, or substantially equivalent immunities, as a defense.”

The legislation will create a “local right of security” that allows an individual to bring a civil action against an officer or New York Police Department (NYPD) employee that violates their new right, according to the city council. Individuals will have up to three years after the incident to bring the civil action.

“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 other cities that employ them accountable,” the city council said.

“Today we provide the people of New York City an important tool for accountability when law enforcement violates their rights,” Council Member Stephen Levin said. “This legislation is simple– it creates a set of civil rights here in New York City, mirroring those conferred by the 4th and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, so that people in New York City can hold officers accountable if those officers violate their civil rights.”

“It eliminates the shield of Qualified Immunity to allow victims the opportunity to seek justice,” he added.

Council Speak Corey Johnson celebrated the vote on Twitter, saying Qualified Immunity is rooted in systemic racism.

“Qualified immunity was established in 1967 in Mississippi to prevent Freedom Riders from holding public officials liable even when they broke the law.”

“Rooted in our nation’s history of systemic racism, qualified immunity denied Freedom Riders justice and has been used to deny justice to victims of police abuse for decades.”

Qualified Immunity has become the center of recent debates regarding police reform in recent months. The doctrine renders officers immune from having a civil suit taken out against them unless the officer violates a “clearly established” right that another officer on scene would have known. (RELATED: Supreme Court Declined 8 Cases Challenging Qualified Immunity For Police Officers)

A Pew Research Center survey from July found more than 60% of Americans support allowing people to sue police officers for using excessive force. Only 32% of those surveyed said officers should have Qualified Immunity from such lawsuits.

Other measures passed includes giving the Civilian Complaint Review Board the ability to investigate police with a history of bias and racial profiling allegations and give the board the finally say on how an officer should be disciplined. The police commissioner had the right to disregard recommendations previously.

Deputy Commissioner of the NYPD John Miller said this is the opposite of accountability in a statement obtained by the Daily Caller.

“What people are calling for is accountability. When you take that accountability away from the chief executive of the organization and hand it to a committee, you have the opposite of accountability. When something goes wrong, all you get is finger pointing.”

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea expressed a similar sentiment in a  statement.

“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. If I am not doing that the right way, I am accountable. The buck stops here,” he said, citing data that police chiefs are tougher on officers than outside civilian bodies.

The new legislation also requires officers to live within city lines and the Mayor’s office will be handling press passes rather than the NYPD.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio celebrated the series of bills passed.

“These reforms will confront centuries of overpricing in communities of color and strengthen the bonds between police and community,” de Blasio said. “Together, we’ll make our city safer and fairer for generations to come.”