Reform Still Needed

23 September 2021


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Police Reform Negotiations Collapse


The negotiations over police reform between Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, Democratic Congresswoman Karen Bass of California and Republican Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina fell apart officially yesterday. The need to revolutionize the way policing is done in America is clear. All too often, the guardians of the community act like and are seen to be an occupying army. When a sizable portion of the population fears a traffic stop because it could end in death, there is a problem. The negotiators, however, could not find enough common ground to move forward.

"The effort from the very beginning was to get police reform that would raise professional standards, police reform that would create a more transparent way, one that would create accountability and we were not able to come to agreements on those three big areas," Senator Booker told reporters Wednesday. "It was clear to me that we weren't making any more substantive progress."

Mr. Scott had a different view saying, "After months of making progress, I am deeply disappointed that Democrats have once again squandered a crucial opportunity to implement meaningful reform to make our neighborhoods safer and mend the tenuous relationship between law enforcement and communities of color. Crime will continue to increase while safety decreases, and more officers are going to walk away from the force because my negotiating partners walked away from the table."

Whenever negotiations fall apart, the blame game begins. In this particular instance, it is clear that the unwillingness of Mr. Scott to diminish in any way the doctrine of qualified immunity is the reason for the failure of the talks. That police officers are immune from civil liability for actions undertaken while on duty is ridiculous. Doctors and lawyers can be sued for malpractice when they fail to live up to their professional obligations. Corporate officers can be sued for violating financial regulations. Police officers can kill an unarmed civilian and face no civil penalties because they are immune. Ridiculous.

However, the justice system in any country is also part of the power structure of that country. What is right and fair is not always what the powerful want. So right and fair take a back seat to political interests. In this instance, the power of the police unions trumps justice for those their members harm.

The Republican argument that reforming or ending qualified immunity would result in a loss of morale among police officers and a decline in recruitment holds little water. The fear that any citizen could sue a police officer for minor infractions, thus amounting to harassment, is unfounded. The police union lawyers and some errors and omission insurance paid for out of union dues can manage that.

The demand for an end to qualified immunity and the negative reaction merely shows how bad things are. Civil liability in the case of a felonious act is small compensation. Criminal prosecution is in order. Yet the number of police officers who are charged for breaking the law while pretending to enforce it is minuscule, and convictions are even less common. The police claim they leave the house for every shift not knowing whether they will come back. Thus far in 2021, 78 officers have died in the line of duty (171 have died of Covid). They have killed 754 civilians, who didn't know they were leaving home for the last time that day either. And the police volunteered for the job; those dead civilians did not.

This journal has long maintained that policing in a free society is one of the hardest jobs around (it's dead easy in an illiberal state). In the US, that means split-second decisions must be made by officers who do not have law degrees and who have no more than 6 months police academy training. Those decisions are then picked apart at leisure by lawyers and judges, who have been to law school and who have probably never walked a beat.

But just because a job is hard doesn't mean it is acceptable for that job to be done badly. When it is, there should be consequences. Policing is too important for that.

© Copyright 2021 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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