New York’s city council on Thursday passed a legislative package aimed at police reform which includes a provision that makes it easier for plaintiffs to sue police officers for excessive force.
The legislation passed on Thursday limits the NYPD’s ability to invoke “qualified immunity” — a legal doctrine that protects officers from lawsuits from people who have been arrested and claim their constitutional rights were violated.
The doctrine has been a target of progressives in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Preventing local police departments from invoking the statute has been a rallying cry for the thousands of protesters that took to the streets calling for police reform.
The New York Times notes that New York City is the largest police force to limit the use of qualified immunity, following in the footsteps of states like Colorado and Connecticut.
“What we are doing is saying the police can’t walk into the courtroom and say, ‘The plaintiff has no right to bring me here because I am immune,’” Brooklyn Councilman Stephen Levin, a Democrat, told the Times. “This is about giving people a right to protect the most fundamental rights in our democracy.”
Police advocates, including New York Police Benevolence Association President Patrick Lynch were critical of the decision.
"New Yorkers are getting shot and police officers are out on the street, all day and all night, trying to stop the bloodshed," Lynch said, according to CNN. "Where are these City Council members? Safe at home, hiding behind their screens and dreaming up new ways to give criminals a free pass. It won't get better unless New Yorkers shame the politicians into doing their job."
According to CNN, New York’s city council passed several other police reform measures on Thursday. Among them are povisions that give authority to the Civilian Complaint Review Board to investigate officers with histories of racial bias and profiling complaints. The CCRB will also have final authority on discipline recommendations — something police commissioners previously had the right to ignore.