‘Qualified Immunity’ LET ME EXPLAIN!

President’s Message 

Our profession has been hit with another horrific tragedy. Another disgraceful display of policing gone wrong. The actions of those officers in Memphis (the licensed officers) cannot be defended, and they WON’T be defended with Qualified Immunity.

Let me repeat that loud and clear: They will NOT have Qualified Immunity.

If you are a New Jersey legislator, I hope by now you have read my letter. If you haven’t, please ask your staff for it. It’s pretty important.

There is nothing complicated about Qualified Immunity (QI). It is a legal doctrine based on several U.S. Supreme Court cases that protects officers (and other government officials) from being sued unless it can be shown: (1) that the official violated a statutory or constitutional right, and (2) that the right was “clearly established” at the time of the challenged conduct.

The concept is to allow officers room to do their jobs and make split-second decisions based on what they believe to be their lawful authority. If an officer’s actions are so outside normal police procedures (i.e. Memphis, Minneapolis, etc.), the officers WILL NOT be afforded QI. Period, end of story.

Much like the Thin Blue Line flag, QI has been hijacked as a convenient sound bite to get some print or airtime in the news media. I find it to be the ultimate irony that our U.S. representatives who throw it around the most enjoy ABSOLUTE IMMUNITY!

Absolute immunity is the right to be free from the consequences of a lawsuit’s results, and from defending themselves altogether. Qualified immunity only shields an officer from liability if the officer’s activities are within the scope of the job.

The important root word in our case is “Qualify.” Funny though, has anybody heard our representatives offer to give up their absolute immunity? Me neither, but I’m still searching.

The entire nation is confronting a law enforcement recruiting crisis. A crisis so dire that Memphis, among many jurisdictions both large and small, significantly lowered its recruiting standards and offered very generous signing bonuses to increase its ranks.

Memphis was even overlooking criminal records. It became so egregious that their recruiting brass either retired or transferred. By now, we have all witnessed the tragic consequences of that idea.

What you need to know is that every single study regarding the recruitment and retention crisis has definitively pointed to both the current climate for law enforcement and the reform efforts that are making recruitment and retention nearly impossible.

It is already happening in New Jersey. We don’t need a boulder to swat a fly. The last few years have seen a collaborative and successful update in police training, education and oversight in the state. New Jersey already had the best trained and managed policing in the nation prior to these efforts.

Officers literally make split-second decisions every minute in this state, 24 hours a day. Every one of these lawful decisions comes with the protection of QI. I’ve heard our officers loud and clear. Administer CPR? No thanks, not without QI. Intervene in a fight? No way. Administer Narcan? I hope their friend is conscious enough to do it. Gun call? WHOA, slow it down. I hope I don’t have to remind everybody of the tragic and chilling results of the Ferguson Effect.

The average citizen believes that we are immune from every single lawsuit regardless of our actions because of the cheap media shots. It is not true, and every one of you in the legislature knows that. Qualified Immunity should be taken out of your vocabulary, because if it isn’t, the next crime studies are going to be called the “QI Effect.” And I will be there to place the blame squarely on you!