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New York City Council Approves Series of Police Reforms, Including Ending Qualified Immunity for the NYPD

By: Joe Juardo, The Root

Change is often a slow, ongoing process. Last year, hundreds of thousands of Americans marched in the streets and demanded that police stop killing unarmed Black people and that they be held accountable for their actions. New York City, which is no stranger to police misconduct, passed a series of reforms on Thursday, including ending qualified immunity for the NYPD.

According to CNN, the New York City Council passed five bills and three resolutions all aimed at police reform. The most notable includes ending qualified immunity for New York police officers. Oftentimes, when you see a cop do something egregious and get away with it, it’s because qualified immunityessentially makes convicting an officer of a crime a complicated process. Under the new law, New Yorkers are protected from illegal search and seizures, and officers can no longer count on qualified immunity to protect them when they come through with the fuck shit.

The Council also took the step of authorizing the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) to investigate cops with a history of bias or misconduct. The board has also been granted final approval for recommending disciplinary action for officers, an authority that previously only the police commissioner had. 

“We believe the plan ratified today by the City Council reflects the themes brought forward with reforms that center squarely on bringing an end to such policing, the criminalization of poverty, and the lack of transparency and accountability in the NYPD,” a statement from collaborative co-sponsors Jennifer Jones Austin, Wes Moore, and Arva Rice said. “We know there is more to be done. Now the work begins to implement this plan without delay, and ensure that the City’s budget is fully aligned.”

If you’ve been paying attention at all for the last year, then you damn well know the pro-police crowd wasn’t thrilled at the idea of being held accountable for their actions.

“Right now, the commissioner hires them, trains them, asks them to go in harm’s way to keep New Yorkers safe and if an officer breaks the rules, I discipline them and if necessary fire them,” New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told CNN. “If I am not doing that the right way, I am accountable. The buck stops here. To take that away from the Commissioner, ask yourself who has the accountability then?”

Maybe it’s just because I assume most things that go wrong in my life are my fault, but if I was stripped of some level of authority, I wouldn’t blame the people who did it. I would likely be like “Damn, I must have been fucking up, huh?” Maybe, just maybe, Shea should channel just a little bit of that energy. 

The New York City Police Benevolent Association (PBA), an organization that represents 24,000 New York cops, was perhaps made the most livid by the changes. 

“New Yorkers are getting shot and police officers are out on the street, all day and all night, trying to stop the bloodshed,” PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said. “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.” 

It wasn’t only cops who were critical of the reforms, though. The Legal Aid Society, an advocacy group in favor of police reform, felt like the reforms didn’t go far enough, particularly pointing out the lack of investment in community resources.

“Mayor de Blasio had a genuine opportunity to implement urgently needed policing reforms,” Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Defense Practice at The Legal Aid Society, told CNN. “He failed to do that and instead produced a plan that at best glosses over the deeply rooted systemic problems within the NYPD that plague the New Yorkers we serve.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio has said that all of the reforms passed by the City Council this week will go into effect over the course of 2020, and a tracker will be launched on May 1 to monitor the city’s progress on implementing the reforms. 

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