Presidential candidate Julian Castro recently rolled out his new plan for policing in America, aimed at restructuring how law enforcement officers do their jobs.
And as part of his new plan, Castro says he can make a huge impact on police brutality by eliminating a doctrine referred to as ‘qualified immunity’.
So what is qualified immunity?
In plain English, it’s basically what protects police officers from personal liability while they are performing the duties of their jobs.
Officers are protected under the law, which is why cities are usually sued in civil suits rather than the department or the actual officer involved in a particular situation. By doing away with qualified immunity, citizens would be able to more easily sue the officer directly, as well as the department at which they’re employed.
So why does Castro want to repeal it? He says it would cause officers to think more about their actions and would help put a stop to police brutality.
Castro said he’d realistically want the statute to be “severely limited” or eliminated completely, noting that the removing the doctrine altogether would force an officer to think before acting.
“If an officer is going to be civilly liable, then that officer is going to think twice, which he or she should do before they use force against a civilian,” Castro said.
Castro says he would “work with Congress to put forward legislation to lower the unfairly high burden to prosecute police officers for misconduct—ensuring those who violate constitutional or legal protections of civilians under Section 242 are held accountable. Reform and restrict the ‘qualified immunity’ defense under section 1983 for law enforcement officers.”
So what else is in Castro’s plan for police in America if he successfully takes office?
A lot of it starts with the removal of federal funding from departments that don’t comply with his program.
The presidential hopeful says he wants to fight against federally funded department policing that he said “leads to the disproportionately high number of black men who are killed by police,” he said at the end of May when he unveiled his program.
“How many of these videos do we have to watch to understand that even though we have some great police officers, this is not a case of bad apples?” Castro said at the forum. “The system is broken, so let’s fix it.”
Castro said his new changes would take a closer look at officer authorization of deadly force in order to combat “racially discriminatory policing”.
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Multiple states across the country have reevaluated use of force laws, including some daunting bills in California and Connecticut specifically. Critics have argued that these statutes will lead to an officer second-guessing their decisions which could ultimately lead to putting themselves or their partners at further risk of injury or death.
Castro said his plan would establish national standards and guidelines for police conduct; increase transparency and accountability for police departments and officers; “demilitarize” police by ending the transfer of federal military weaponry to local departments; and end racial profiling.
Here are some key takeaways from Castro’s plan.
- Establish national conduct standards for police officers and departments that receive federal funding
- Require pre-employment screenings to weed out applicants “who display bias, intolerance, or other behaviors or prejudices that may threaten public safety”
- Use technology such as body cameras to support responsible policing
- Require officers to identify themselves, give a verbal warning and allow a reasonable amount of time to comply before using force
- Restrict the use of deadly force to instances where there’s an imminent threat to someone’s life and require de-escalation procedures in other circumstances
- Require implicit bias training
- Work with Congress to pass legislation to prohibit racial profiling and stop-and-frisk policies, as well as legislation to lower the burden to prosecute officers for misconduct
Certain members of law enforcement say that removing the statute would make them feel like they were less safe and less supported by the government.
But Eric Sanders, a civil rights lawyer and former NYPD officer says that isn’t true, and that officers are just not reacting the way they’ve been trained while on the job.
“Police officers don’t go through a checklist of what people think. Police officers are trained to react. What I am most critical of is that they are not reacting in the way they are trained to react. The whole point behind training is to get police officers to do things as automatically as possible. They don’t sit there and think, ‘If I make a bad decision, someone is going to second guess me.’ No. That is not going to stop making them do their jobs. The police unions and trade groups say that stuff. You have to be in the inside to understand it. For police officers who are professionals, those things do not affect them at all.”
We want to hear from members of law enforcement across America. Should this doctrine stay or go? And if it goes away, what can officers expect?