New York City’s City Council voted 37 to 11 to end qualified immunity for its police officers on Thursday.
The move makes NYC the first city in the nation to make such a drastic change. Notably, NYPD is the largest police department in the U.S., with over 35,000 full-time officers.
The bill was sponsored by Council Member Stephen Levin who said, “today we provide the people of New York City an important tool for accountability when law enforcement violates their rights. 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.”
According to Cornell Law School, qualified immunity is defined as a type of legal immunity that protects government officials from lawsuits alleging that the official violated a plaintiff’s rights.
A local civil right
With the national eruption of protests last year in the name of social justice, many have been calling on massive reform when it comes to police departments. In particular, people have increasingly called attention to police brutality towards people of color.
Citizens were already able to file civil lawsuits against police departments and cities. Yet, this new bill will allow individual officers to be held accountable for their actions.
The bill establishes a local right, the protection against unreasonable searches and the use of excessive force. It says officers can’t use the qualified immunity defense against it.
Taxpayers pay millions of dollars annually in New York City to settle police misconduct lawsuits. In 2019 alone the city paid out $220 million to settle lawsuits against the police.
“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,’” said Councilman Levin. “This is about giving people a right to protect the most fundamental rights in our democracy.”