LOWER MANHATTAN — New York City Council voted to pass a resolution effectively ending qualified immunity for police officers accused of civil rights violations, lawmakers announced Thursday.
The rule is meant “to ensure that officers who violate Constitutional rights in the course of a search and seizure or by the use of excessive force are not entitled to qualified immunity,” legislators said.
The council created a new local civil right providing protections against unreasonable search and seizure and excessive force.
The qualified immunity statute was not part of the NYC Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative plan, but the mayor supports the resolution’s passage, he said.
“Today we provide the people of New York City an important tool for accountability when law enforcement violates their rights,” said Council Member Stephen Levin, who sponsored the resolution. “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.”
Council Speaker Corey Johnson said New York City is now the first city in the nation to end qualified immunity.
“Qualified immunity was established in 1967 in Mississippi to prevent Freedom Riders from holding public officials liable even when they broke the law,” he said in a tweet. “Rooted in our nation’s history of systemic racism, qualified immunity denied Freedom Riders justice and has been used to deny justice to victims of police abuse for decades. It should never have been allowed, but I’m proud that we took action today to end it here in NYC.”
The Legal Aid Society applauded the move, but said more needs to be done.
“The culture of impunity that has been allowed to exist and fester within the New York City Police Department is in part due to the doctrine of qualified immunity, which shields even the worst officers from legal liability and prevents victims of police abuse from getting justice in court,” said Robert Quackenbush, Staff Attorney with the Prisoners’ Rights Project at The Legal Aid Society. “This introduction is long overdue and a solid first step, but it should not supplant the need for statewide legislation, specifically A4331/S1991, a bill that would provide comprehensive relief to victims of police and corrections officer misconduct. The Legal Aid Society urges Albany lawmakers to enact this critical measure now.”
The resolutions passed by the council build on the proposals from the Police Reform and Reinvention Collaborative plan introduced by the mayor, the mayor’s office said.
“These reforms will confront centuries of overpolicing in communities of color and strengthen the bonds between police and community,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “I’m grateful to our co-sponsors—Jennifer Jones Austin, Wes Moore, and Arva Rice—for their vision and leadership throughout this process, as well as Speaker Johnson and Chair Adams. Together, we’ll make our city safer and fairer for generations to come.”
The police reform resolution has five goals:
- The Decriminalization of Poverty.
- Recognition and Continual Examination of Historical and Modern-Day Racialized Policing in New York City.
- Transparency and Accountability to the People of New York City.
- Community Representation and Partnership.
- A Diverse, Resilient, and Supported NYPD.
Police reform plans were required to be submitted this spring by the governor; they’re due from local governments on April 1.