For once I agree with Sheriff Scott Jenkins (Sept. 11 Star-Exponent, “Culpeper sheriff: Stripping police of ‘qualified immunity’ will increase crime”).
I spent 28 years in public service where liability was a constant threat. There are always those vindictive people who will file frivolous law suits forcing the defendant to spend time and money to prove they are innocent of the charge.
The solution is adding a special independent body to weigh the validity of the charge and defense of the accused officer. There needs to be an independent body to judge if a violation of the rights of the accused person has been compromised by the arresting officer.
Only when this independent body finds justification could the victim proceed with either legal or civil redress.
There is no doubt that excess force has been used in arrests by some police officers. It is also true that criminals have used excess force in resisting arrest.
The question is always who initiated the resistance or criminal restraint. It can’t be answered by a police review or by public protest. If we remove protection from liability, then the good officers will leave and the bad officers will remain and compound the problem.
It is only when both parties feel they are getting a fair hearing can we retain a quality public safety police force while making sure that the bad apples are thrown out and the entire public feels they are being heard in their opposing positions.
If we don’t establish this feeling of fairness we will see more and more police violence and more and more riots in our streets. But with it, we will start to heal the wounds of centuries of repression and racist acts.
Removing liability protection from our police force only transfers the question of fairness from a victim to the officers doing their job. And the good officers will leave the force rather than expose their families to the hardship of frivolous liability suits.
Adding a commonwealth court to hear cases where alleged excessive force was used, where a victim’s rights are weighted, and where officers can defend their acts—before any civil or criminal legal action can proceed—will provide some assurance that fairness will guide further actions. It would be a safety net for accused officers, and a restraint on police who are racist and bent on defying common decency.
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