New York City Becomes First in US To Ban Qualified Immunity For Cops in Civil Lawsuits

The New York City Council on Thursday approved a bill to end qualified immunity protecting police officers from civil lawsuits, CNN reports.

The bill, which was part of a larger package aimed at reforming the New York Police Department, bans officers from using qualified immunity as a defense from lawsuits and creates a new civil right protecting residents from unreasonable search and seizure and excessive force.

The bill passed with a 37-11 vote.

“What we are doing is saying the police can’t walk into the courtroom and say, ‘The plaintiff has no right to bring me here because I am immune,’” bill sponsor Stephen Levin said. “This is about giving people a right to protect the most fundamental rights in our democracy.”

A growing number of advocates have called to make it easier to sue police officers who violate rights.

NY City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said qualified immunity is “rooted in our system of systemic racism” and has been used to “deny justice to victims of police abuse for decades.”

Major reforms:

The bill was part of a larger package that included five different bills and three resolutions aimed at boosting oversight and transparency at the NYPD.

The city council also approved a Civilian Complaint Review Board to investigate officers with a history of bias and gives the board final authority to discipline officers.

The reform also requires the NYPD to submit a quarterly report of all traffic stops and moves investigations of crashes with serious injuries to the Department of Transportation.

The bill will also require officers to live inside the city and moves the credentialing of press from the NYPD to the mayor’s office.

Reactions split:

Police groups and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea criticized the bill.

"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?"

Though many hailed the qualified immunity bill, groups like The Legal Aid Society argued that the reforms did not do enough to reinvest police funding to community services.

"Mayor de Blasio had a genuine opportunity to implement urgently needed policing reforms," said Legal Aid Society attorney Tina Luongo said. "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."


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