New York, NY – The New York City Council on Thursday voted to become the first city in the nation to end qualified immunity for police officers.
“The Council’s legislation would end 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 city council wrote in a press release shortly before the vote.
The bill to end qualified immunity protections for law enforcement was one of five police reform measures passed on March 25 that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he planned to sign into law, WCBS reported.
Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that provides law enforcement officers’ protections from liability for civil damages for actions taken while acting in the capacity of a law enforcement officers, as long as the officer didn’t violate a person’s rights.
If an officer violates a person’s legally-established rights, they are not eligible to claim qualified immunity.
Qualified immunity does not offer any protection from criminal charges but was established by the U.S. Supreme Court to curb gratuitous litigation against police officers.
Once the mayor signs the bill ending qualified immunity, it will be much easier for citizens to sue NYPD officers for misconduct, Spectrum News reported.
De Blasio defended his decision to support ending qualified immunity and said the bill that has just passed didn’t threaten officers’ financial security.
“It makes it easier if someone has a concern to bring a legal action, but it does not put the individual financial penalty on the officer,” the mayor said. “It puts it on the department and the city, and that’s what I was comfortable with.”
An NYPD source explained to The Police Tribune that he understood that de Blasio said NYPD officers would not be financially responsible for legal action is because officers are indemnified by the City of New York under their collective bargaining agreement.
The means that if an officer loses a lawsuit or settles, the city has to pick up the tab.
This means that the city could eliminate the protection by not indemnifying officers in future contracts.
The Police Tribune reached out to the NYPD Police Benevolent Association to get the union’s take on it but had not heard back at publication time.
Critics of ending qualified immunity have said that officers will be afraid to do their jobs, WCBS reported.
What the Council's been up to:
✅ ending qualified immunity for excessive force or illegal stops/searches
✅ shifting the City's crash response efforts away from NYPD to DOT
✅ extending protections for commercial tenants impacted by COVID-19
All in a week's work 💁 onward!
— NYC Council (@NYCCouncil) March 26, 2021
But supporters celebrated the win on the historic measure.
“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,” NYC City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said after the vote. “It should never have been allowed, but I’m proud that we took action today to end it here in NYC.”
The @NYCCouncil just voted to end qualified immunity for police officers, making NYC the first city in the country to do so.
Qualified immunity was established in 1967 in Mississippi to prevent Freedom Riders from holding public officials liable even when they broke the law. 1/
— NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson (@NYCSpeakerCoJo) March 25, 2021
Police unions criticized the entire package of reform measures passed by the city council, Spectrum News reported.
“Yesterday, the @NYCCouncil passed more anti-cop legislation, but NOT ONE bill aimed at curbing violence. The result? More criminals exploiting this environment and causing bloodshed,” the NYPD Police Benevolent Association (PBA) tweeted.
The city council also voted on March 25 to support a Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) investigation of officers with a history of bias and racial complaints, according to The Hill.
Another bill passed requires the police department to distribute quarterly reports on the demographics of traffic stops.
Other legislation took the authority to grant or suspend press credentials away from NYPD, The Hill reported.
Going forward, that power will be wielded by the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment.