The nationwide protests and civil disobedience that arose after the killing of George Floyd have resulted in a major piece of legislation being passed in New York City. The NYC Council passed legislation in March that will make it easier for citizens to sue officers who use excessive force or conduct searches that would be deemed illegal.
The legislation limits the ability of officers to evoke qualified immunity to protect themselves from this type of legal action. New York City is the largest jurisdiction to limit this defense, following the example of similar actions taken by the states of Colorado and Connecticut.
Qualified immunity has been much disputed since the doctrine was introduced at the height of the civil rights movement in 1967. The doctrine gives government officials a lot of protection from civil suits.
The rule has been expanded in the decades since, and in the last three years, qualified immunity was invoked in at least 180 cases with a judge permitting its use in about 100 of those cases. The doctrine has been fiercely criticized, as it has been seen as a method of denying justice to the victims of police abuse in thousands of cases around the country.
Opponents of the bill claim that qualified immunity is necessary protection that allows police officers to carry out their duties. Opponents to the bill include the Police Benevolent Association and New York City Councilman Robert F. Holden. However, the bill gained significant support in the council passing with a majority of 37-11.
The new law makes it significantly harder for a law enforcement official to deploy qualified immunity as a defense against any civil case regarding the use of excessive force or illegal searches.
The bill is designed to establish a new local right for New York civilians and residents of the city, namely the protection against the use of excessive force or unreasonable searches conducted by law enforcement within the city.
The bill, which has already come into effect, may result in a sharp rise in demand for a New York civil rights attorney, as they will be able to actively pursue civil cases against individual officers who have broken the law in this regard. The local law will allow attorneys representing their clients to sue for damages without the need to go through federal or state statutes.
The bill passed by New York City Council and supported by Mayor Bill De Blasio was accompanied by a $72 million plan which was set to improve police practices and accountability. The package allows for the Civilian Complaint Review Board to investigate racial bias in policing. Another measure in the plan requires the police to collect data on the race of any arrests made during traffic stops.