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Why reforming qualified immunity will never resolve police violence

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Opinion by Cedric L. Alexander
May 5, 2021 at 6:00 a.m. MDT

Cedric L. Alexander served as a member of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and is former director of public safety for DeKalb County, Ga.

As lawmakers in Congress negotiate their long-awaited police reform bill, Democrats are sticking firm to their conviction that the legislation must include some type of reform of qualified immunity — the legal protections that make suing individual police officers for misconduct nearly impossible. For many on the left, that raises an important question: To what extent should they be willing to compromise on reforming the law?

It’s the wrong question to ask. As a 40-year veteran of law enforcement, from sheriff’s deputy to chief and director of public safety, I firmly believe that nothing federal, state or local governments do about qualified immunity will significantly reduce or increase the incidence of unjustified deadly force by police. Real reform requires us to go much deeper than tweaking tort rules.

I do not wish to dismiss the debate about qualified immunity. Indeed, the arguments against it are compelling. Some say it puts the officer above the law, at least civil law, by denying the families of those unjustly killed by the police their constitutional right to seek redress of grievance.

This is a legitimate point, but so, too, are arguments that immunity should be available when officers are called to account for

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Sheriff: Deputy fatally shot Black man while serving warrant

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ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. (AP) — A North Carolina deputy shot and killed a Black man while serving a search warrant Wednesday, authorities said, spurring an outcry from community members who demanded law enforcement accountability and the immediate release of body camera footage.

Authorities wouldn’t provide details of the shooting but an eyewitness said that Andrew Brown Jr. was shot while trying to drive away, and that deputies fired at him multiple times. The car skidded out of Brown’s yard and eventually hit a tree, said Demetria Williams, who lives on the same street.

Williams said after hearing one gunshot, she ran outside, where she saw other shots being fired at the car.

“When they opened the door he was already dead,” Williams told The Associated Press. “He was slumped over.” She said officers tried to perform chest compressions on him.

A car authorities removed from the scene appeared to have multiple bullet holes and a broken rear windshield.

The Pasquotank County Sheriff’s deputy was placed on leave pending a review by the State Bureau of Investigation, Sheriff Tommy Wooten II said at a news conference. Court records show Brown was 42 years old and had a history of drug charges and a misdemeanor drug possession conviction.

Dozens of people gathered at the scene of the shooting in Elizabeth City, a municipality of about 18,000 people 170 miles (274 km) northeast of Raleigh, where they expressed their anger and rallied around

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Which crime suspects should be booked into jail? Which should pay bail? Colorado lawmakers could decide this year.

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The bill aims to reduce the populations of Colorado’s county jails even after the pandemic

Should a person suspected of breaking into a cash register be booked into jail? Should they have to pay bond to get out? These are the questions Colorado lawmakers will ponder this session as they debate a bill that would limit whom police can arrest and who has to pay money for release from jail.

The bill, which passed its first legislative hurdle Thursday, would prohibit Colorado law enforcement from taking people into custody on a range of crimes, including misdemeanors and some low-level felonies, and would require judges to issue non-monetary bonds in many of those cases. But the bill includes exceptions for suspects who pose a threat or are repeat offenders.

The goal is to keep Colorado’s county jail populations low by embedding in law a more moderate version of the rules used by sheriffs during the COVID-19 pandemic, said Sen. Pete Lee, a Democrat from El Paso County, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee and one of the prime sponsors of the bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 3-2 in favor of the bill Thursday and it will now be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

The bill will save counties the cost of jailing people and will mitigate the harms of a system where two people accused of the same crime might spend vastly different amounts of time in jail based

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In the first six months of health care professionals replacing police officers, no one they encountered was arrested

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DPD Chief Pazen, who is fond of the STAR program, says it frees up officers to do their jobs: fight crime.

Chris Richardson and Carleigh Sailon with the Mental Health Center of Denver (left and right) and Spencer Lee, a Denver Health paramedic, stand in front of the Support Team Assisted Response’s new van. June 8, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A young program that puts troubled nonviolent people in the hands of health care workers instead of police officers has proven successful in its first six months, according to a progress report.

Since June 1, 2020, a mental health clinician and a paramedic have traveled around the city in a white van handling low-level incidents, like trespassing and mental health episodes, that would have otherwise fallen to patrol officers with badges and guns. In its first six months, the Support Team Assisted Response program, or STAR, has responded to 748 incidents. None required police or led to arrests or jail time.

The civilian team handled close to six incidents a day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, in high-demand neighborhoods. STAR does not yet have enough people or vans to respond to every nonviolent incident, but about 3 percent of calls for DPD service, or over 2,500 incidents, were worthy of the alternative approach, according to the report.

STAR represents a more empathetic approach to policing that keeps people out of an often-cyclical criminal justice system by

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Resisting Unlawful Arrest

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In some states you can legally resist unlawful arrest with reasonable force. In others you can’t.

Historically, American citizens were legally entitled to use reasonable force to resist unlawful arrest. Some states continue to follow this rule, while others don’t.

A statute rejecting the traditional rule might say something like this: “You can’t use force to resist if you know or should know that you’re being arrested by a police officer, regardless of whether the arrest is legal.”

(See here for an overview of resisting arrest. For a discussion of resistance when police use unreasonable force in the course of an arrest—a topic beyond the scope of this article—look here.)

Of course, even where resisting unlawful arrest (with or without some degree of force) is legal, most would tell you it isn’t a good idea. Just about anyone working in the criminal justice system—including criminal defense lawyers—would recommend that someone being unlawfully arrested through use of reasonable force not resist. For one, as discussed below, the arrest might be lawful even if the arrestee is innocent. For another, circumstances can quickly unravel to the point that the arrestee is seriously injured or earns additional criminal charges.

The Traditional Rule: Reasonable Force Okay
A 2012 Georgia case illustrates the traditional rule that it’s sometimes okay to resist arrest with force. An officer had been investigating the firing of shots in or around an apartment building. Outside, he saw

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The community needs services which correspond to the KIND OF non-emergency and emergency calls ringing 911 operators. Police chiefs have stated that approx. 25% to one-third of all 911 calls require an armed police response. The great majority of 911 calls DO NOT REQUIRE police response but are better served by 911 operators dispatching non-police personnel/services instead.
San Francisco and Denver have already begun dispatching non-police services to non-violent 911 calls and have enjoyed great success in addressing these calls.

We will always need armed police response for crimes against persons: rape, robbery, murder. The realization is in recognizing that the majority of 911 calls in America’s cities are much better addressed and matched by dispatching appropriate non-police personnel to non-violent 911 calls. “Defunding the police” is actually the public’s attempt to recognize and address the community’s need to more accurately and responsibly address 911 calls.


The single, most important action we can take to eliminate police brutality and murder is to decriminalize non-violent misdemeanors.

We need to pass a bill decriminalizing all non-violent misdemeanors. If a person fails to appear for a misdemeanor court date, then that person’s driver’s license is suspended until the absentee shows up to court to resolve their misdemeanor case.

The great majority of police excessive force complaints would have never occurred had all non-violent misdemeanors been decriminalized. I cannot emphasize this enough.

A majority of

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Can We Ever End Police Brutality/Murder?

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One thing our Congress should do IMMEDIATELY to ELIMINATE OVERNIGHT the great majority of police brutality and murder is to pass a federal law decriminalizing all non-violent misdemeanor laws/statutes.

The great majority of all police brutality/murder cases occur during attempted misdemeanor arrests. If we eliminate non-violent misdemeanor arrests, we categorically eliminate the great majority of police brutality/murder cases. Did you know the nationwide average for felony arrest per officer is approx. one felony arrest per year? The great majority of officer arrests in their career are indeed misdemeanor arrests. Felony arrests per officer are far less frequent than most people realize: eliminate all non-violent misdemeanors from arrest and you just eliminated the great majority of all police brutality/murder cases.

The Scale of Misdemeanor Justice
“The first notable fact the data reveal is no surprise: the volume of misdemeanor cases is very high. By the NCSC’s accounting, misdemeanor cases represent approximately three-quarters of the criminal justice cases processed in the United States.”

Decriminalizing misdemeanors means instead of an officer arresting a person for a non-violent misdemeanor, the officer issues a citation with a court date. If and when one fails to appear in court on a misdemeanor case, your driver’s license is suspended – you’re unable to renew until you go to court and clear up your misdemeanor case.

This federal law would eliminate the possibility of police brutality and murder occurring during

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America’s Police Departments Were Born of Slave Patrols

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At the end of the Civil War slave patrols morphed into Southern law enforcement. Systemic racism is literally baked into law enforcement in this country.

Inadequate Response to Affiliations with White Supremacist and Militant Groups
The FBI’s 2015 Counterterrorism Policy Directive and Policy Guide warns that “domestic terrorism investigations focused on militia extremists, white supremacist extremists, and sovereign citizen extremists often have identified active links to law enforcement officers.” footnote1_xiiatzb12 This alarming declaration followed a 2006 intelligence assessment, based on FBI investigations and open sources, that warned of “white supremacist infiltration of law enforcement . . . by organized groups and by self-initiated infiltration by law enforcement personnel sympathetic to white supremacist causes.” footnote2_flizdh413 Active links between law enforcement officials and the subjects of any terrorism investigation should raise alarms within our national security establishment, but the federal government has not responded accordingly.

The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have identified white supremacists as the most lethal domestic terrorist threat to the United States. footnote3_iiow97l14 In recent years, white supremacists have executed deadly rampages in Charleston, South Carolina, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and El Paso, Texas. footnote4_s9ux6x215 Narrowly thwarted attempts by neo-Nazis to manufacture radiological “dirty” bombs in Maine in 2009 and Florida in 2017 show their dangerous capability and intent to unleash mass destruction. footnote5_7lnqji816 These groups also pose a lethal threat to law enforcement, as evidenced by recent attacks against Federal Protective Service officers and sheriff’s deputies … Read the rest