State lawmakers discuss qualified immunity, holding police officers accountable

Politics - Government

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – New Mexico lawmakers discussed what it would take to hold police officers personally responsible for using excessive force. Some lawmakers here might be taking a page out of Colorado’s playbook when it comes to qualified immunity which in some cases protects law enforcement from being sued for misconduct.

When George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis a few months ago, it renewed calls for police reform. One major reform is the issue of qualified immunity, which protects government officials, including police officers, from being sued in civil court unless their actions violated established law.

“Accountability is essential for the rest of our criminal justice system to be functioning effectively,” said Jay Schweikert with the CATO Institute.

Schweikert told state lawmakers to look to their neighbor to the north for inspiration if they want to re-evaluate qualified immunity here.

“States can’t change the federal statute or its interpretation by the courts,” said Schweikert. “The states could create their own laws, letting people bring lawsuits in state courts for violations of their rights in under both the federal constitution and the state constitution.”

This year, Colorado created its own laws to address qualified immunity that allows people to sue officers in state court if their rights have been violated. They also have law enforcement officers get their own insurance so these cases won’t bankrupt cities.

“I’m not going to say there wouldn’t be any fiscal impact, because it would be surprising to me if there was no impact at all, but I don’t think it would be something crippling by any means,” said Schweikert.

The president of the Albuquerque Police Officer’s Association argues qualified immunity helps protect officers and said APD is already going through a lot of reforms.

“Our whole profession is being accused of everything and this didn’t even happen in the state of New Mexico,” said APOA president Shaun Willoughby. “All of a sudden, this is a hot button political issue.”

The meeting was mostly just a discussion and right now there are no plans for New Mexico lawmakers to create legislation on the qualified immunity issue but it is something they could pursue in the future.

State lawmakers have passed a new law that requires all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras and within that same legislation, officers could lose their license if they use unlawful force.

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