The Devil in the Details of Police Reform

The time for serious police reforms has come. There is no ignoring that fact. Cities and states around the nation are already working on what those reforms will look like.
Colorado just implemented a new set of standards that other jurisdictions are sure to study. It includes:

• A ban on choke holds
• Limits an officer’s use of deadly force to life-and-death situations only
• Prohibits police from shooting at a fleeing suspect
• Mandates mandatory body cameras for all local and state police by 2023
• Public release of all body camera footage
• Officers must report other officers for wrongdoing
• Officers must report every contact with a criminal suspect and include the person’s race, gender and ethnicity
• Officers can be held personally liable (up to $25,000) if they are found guilty of violating an individual’s civil rights

Martial arts instructor course to begin March 24
Sgt. Rey Campos, a platoon sergeant with the distribution management office and a Marine Corps Martial Arts Program instructor, performs a choke hold on Lance Cpl. Santiago Cruz, a distribution management clerk, March 5, 2014. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Suzanna Knotts)
Choke Holds Already Outlawed in Several States – photo: US mil

A good template to contemplate, I suppose. That last point is a nod to the current call to do away with the “qualified immunity” law enforcement officers (and other public officials) currently enjoy that shields them from citizen lawsuits. The idea being that if an officer knows he or she will have to pay out of their own pocket if they violate someone’s constitutional rights they might be more careful when dealing with the public.

There has been so much focus on qualified immunity lately you would think it was an idea chiseled in stone. It is not. In fact, it isn’t even a law. It was the U.S. Supreme Court, circa 1967, that first embraced the idea that a police officer should not be hindered during duty by worry that his or her split-second decision might result in a lawsuit. The justices declared cops should be protected by “limited immunity” to citizen’s suits. Over the years that umbrella of protection was expanded by the courts. I won’t bore you with all the legal mumbo jumbo, but various judges allowed officers ever more wiggle room to claim protection from legal action.

Important to note: officers do not have absolute immunity. They can, and have been, held liable for violating a citizen’s rights and their local or state governments have covered the payout. In several fatal shooting cases officers have been sentenced to prison, but that is rare.

The U.S. Supreme Court Invented “Qualified Immunity” – photo: wiki

The U.S. Supreme Court – the place where this idea was birthed so many decades ago – just recently declined to review a lower court decision that gave two San Antonio police officers immunity from a wrongful death suit. It was filed by the family of a black man who, in 2015, was shot with police Taser guns multiple times during a domestic dispute. 33-year-old Norman Cooper died at the scene. The cause was found to have been “intoxication with methamphetamine complicated by his prolonged struggle” with police.

Legal experts have wondered for years why Congress hasn’t stepped up to pass legislation that either outlaws the practice of qualified immunity for cops or crafts a more definitive way to apply it.

Now that there is an unstoppable movement to reform the nation’s police departments lots of citizens are wondering when Congress will act – not just on the question of limited immunity – but on a broader set of federally mandated standards for police conduct.

No Consensus Here on Police Reform – Just Politics – photo: wikimedia

Don’t hold your breath. Members with a “D” after their name continue to be at war with collegues who sport an “R” – and vice versa. Democrats worked up a bill that included a clear way around limited immunity protections and would allow victims of rogue cops to sue. The Republican version made no mention of qualified immunity. The idea of compromise between the two political parties remains a foreign concept, even in the face of such a diverse and nationwide call for change.

This lack of leadership during these troubled times reminds me of the days following the massacre of school children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was hoped that from the profound trauma a consensus would emerge about responsible gun ownership. It didn’t happen. My greatest fear today is that even after the prolonged protests against police racism, destructive riots and occupations, and the multitude of calls for law enforcement reforms Congress will continue to do nothing.

That leaves long overdue changes up to your local and state officials. Think they are up to the task?



  1. Diane Dimond on June 29, 2020 at 3:15 pm

    Reader Bruce Krohn writes:

    I think that in the name of equality, we should impose the same restriction proposed for law enforcement officers on the criminals. They also should only be able to use deadly force in extreme conditions. They also should be personally liable for judgment errors. They definately should not be able to use choke holds. Of course, they should be allowed to simple walk away from any cop if they wish. Cleary the problems of society are caused by a bunch of out-of-control police thugs picking fights with peaceful people, and what other kind are there?

    Bruce Krohn
    Los unas, New Mexico

  2. Diane Dimond on June 29, 2020 at 3:30 pm

    Reader Robert Scott writes:
    I live in a middle class neighborhood in CA. My street of 12 houses has three owned by African Americans and four owned by Hispanics. We all get along just fine. Ten years ago I rarely locked my car in front of the house, even left the garage open when I was working around the house. Now every entry to my house has a security door and every window has bars. 100% camera surveillance. Now I never leave the garage open. People roam our neighborhood night and day testing doors on cars and stealing anything in plain sight. What happened? For starters, our CA government made burglary of less than $950 a catch and release ticketed offence. The police were so hamstrung in their ability to deal with criminals that our whole neighborhood is suffering. We should be very careful with reforms that limit police authority to protect law abiding citizens.

  3. Diane Dimond on June 29, 2020 at 3:31 pm

    Reader Steve Borsher writes:

    Training is one thing, but when the adrenaline starts flowing, all bets are off.

  4. Diane Dimond on June 29, 2020 at 3:37 pm

    Reader Paula Devlin writes:

    Before we jump any further into this police reform debate, it must be acknowledged how much our culture has changed since the fifties. Back then, most people were more respectful, the police walked a beat and were part of the community. People were less likely to be screaming about THEIR civil rights and were concerned about EVERYONE’S rights. There was a strong sense of neighborliness and folks were not out to get rich in the game of Legal Lotto.
    While we do have to be clear about the responsibilities of the police, how about starting a conversation about the responsibilities of citizens? Law and Order is not a one-way street. All citizens have the right to expect equal protection by police, not what we have been seeing where radical anarchists get a pass and patriots get arrested.

  5. Diane Dimond on June 29, 2020 at 3:38 pm

    Reader CHARLES VALENZUELA writes:

    Unlikely that any officer will have to pay anything out of their own pocket. I expect the police union will handle those fines and supply officers with insurance to cover whatever they are doing that might get them sued. It’s a good first step though, and (like malpractice insurance for doctors) may force the worst offenders from their jobs for frequent claims or high insurance costs. That’s all.

  6. Diane Dimond on June 29, 2020 at 3:39 pm

    Reader daniel spy writes:

    Much of this is already in place, with long established case law for many decades.
    Case law already determines that an officer can only use deadly force against a subject who is in process of, or reasonably Believed to commit death or great bodily harm to another.

    Tennessee v Garner is the fleeing subject mandate:

    Learn the difference between a choke hold and a vascular neck restraint. Not the same. One is an airway blockage (dangerous), the other ceases the blood flow to the brain (very safe and not painful).

    In a fight, there are weight classes for a reason. How long will the champion be the champion if he always must wait to be attacked? No crosses or hook punches but the challenger always gets to attack first and has No Rules!

    An average officer gets defensive tactics training once a year if he/she is lucky.
    Many expect a perfect 100% success rate with lowly trained officers, who can only wait to be attacked with all these restrictions, in an open weight class no rules arena of the street? Does a professional athlete have a perfect record in his batting average or never getting sacked in the backfield?

    *setup for dead cops, retirements and resignations. Arm up public!

  7. Diane Dimond on June 29, 2020 at 3:40 pm

    Reader Johnny Appleseed writes:

    Um didn’t all this already happen in the 1990’s??? Why are we doing all this all over again??? Wow… just wow….

    The police do at times walk all over our rights… but it is mandated by our criminal justice system and the politicians…

    But this is wrong… just wrong…

    Don’t look at the actual cause… just throw the police under the bus…

    Blah blah blah it’s not the criminal’s fault for fighting with the police while intoxicated… it’s the police’s fault for doing their jobs…

    And people wonder why police are rough with EVERYONE!

  8. Diane Dimond on June 29, 2020 at 3:41 pm

    Reader Old Boy Scout writes:

    I believe in esprit d’corps. When able, police officers will expel bad actors from their ranks. Immediately.

    I believe that unions’ good intention and bad action are responsible for the retention of psychopaths masquerading in uniform.

    Police officers already realize full liability, at penalty of death, for filling their uniforms. They protect us with their lives. Their badges are us.

    Enforce the laws we have.

    Mutual respect is a marvelous community achievement.

  9. Diane Dimond on June 29, 2020 at 9:05 pm

    Reader Claudia LaPlaca George writes:

    The wall of blue. The culture needs to change to make it easier for officers to report the terrible behaviors. It is always the same ones. Snitching like on the streets will get you in more trouble than it’s worth. Cops are scared of loosing their jobs—and harassment.

  10. Diane Dimond on June 29, 2020 at 9:06 pm

    Reader Jonathan Swartz writes:

    I agree that we do need police reform. I will say that when I lived in Orangetown, I always had a strong relationship with the local police department and had a strong relationship with a couple of DARE program officers in particular. I discussed in depth in my undergraduate thesis about the relationship between the African American community and the police and predicted something like this was going to happen in the future. I think we do have to think outside the box on this issue and do it in a way that keeps us all safe.

  11. Diane Dimond on June 29, 2020 at 9:10 pm

    Reader Sue Corcoran writes:

    it’s easier said than done. The culture has to change. They swear an oath to protect and serve..they should not then be given targets of how many arrests they should be making ffs…it’s not a freaking sales job…it’s fundamentally wrong. /// Having targets for officers to achieve, I think is a big problem. They are put under pressure to make a certain amount of arrests during their shifts. Combine that with an officer who can’t afford to lose their job because they have a family to feed…it’s a recipe for disaster.

  12. Diane Dimond on June 29, 2020 at 9:17 pm

    Reader Vincent F Amen writes:

    Informative…one can see qualified immunity for the police as a non issue. However when there is an injustice served by the police, and a claim of qualified immunity is applied, then the pitchforks come out banging on city halls doors. Limited immunity is understandable.
    My brother-in-law works for the prosecutors office. In the academy, he said he was trained to shoot & kill.That split second decision which gives qualified immunity seems unfair. One should think of the repercussions before pulling the trigger.But our police were trained that way

  13. Diane Dimond on June 29, 2020 at 9:19 pm

    Reader Rosty@RostyMarket writes:

    Congress leaders like #pelosi will continue to do nothing right after they guide our vote where they want it. They will drop us as soon as we vote. Happens every election. Sadly, even #Obama did it too.

  14. Diane Dimond on July 1, 2020 at 4:31 pm

    Reader Bill Voinovich writes:

    It never ceases to amaze me when this stuff happens, the FIRST WORDS out of EVERYBODY’S mouths is POLICE REFORM…
    When are you going to start looking at the OTHER END of the stick??? Start at home..>Teaching HONOR and RESPECT, not only for OTHERS, but for YOURSELF as WELL, and maybe we wouldn’t be living in a toilet we’re all waiting on exploding…..

  15. Diane Dimond on July 1, 2020 at 4:32 pm

    Reader Nancy Spieker Robel writes:

    No one is safe right now! Police reform happens to be the least of our worries right now. The chaos will spread, unchecked and unchallenged. Coming to a neighborhood near you.

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