More than twice as much testimony to preserve qualified immunity for cops than limit it has been filed with House lawmakers who will take up a police reform bill passed by the Senate last week that rolls back provisions of the controversial doctrine.
Middleboro Police Lt. Kristopher Dees told legislators in his testimony that he had “always been willing to give (his) life” for his country when he served in the Marines and now as an officer.
“With the current proposed changes to qualified immunity you are now asking me to put my family’s life on the line as well, which many police officers will not be willing to do,” Dees said.
Lawmakers have sparred — even within their own parties — over the section of a landmark police accountability bill that senators said “chips away” at the qualified immunity doctrine, which protects government employees, including police, from being sued personally for alleged misconduct on the job.
The subject continues to monopolize the conversation — along with criticism — as the bill heads to the House floor for debate.
The House Committee on Ways and Means solicited feedback from the public last week, collecting more than 1,000 testimonials — the vast majority from law enforcement groups opposing changes to qualified immunity and other aspects of the bill.
The legislation also creates a certification system for officers and bans certain types of deadly force, like choke holds.
The committee is poised to release a House version of the Senate’s police reform bill any day, with debate slated to begin Wednesday morning. The Senate debate stretched nearly 17 hours in a single marathon session that began last Monday and didn’t finish until the bill passed in a 30-7 vote taken at 4:10 a.m. Tuesday.
Advocacy groups including the NAACP have said limiting or abolishing qualified immunity is an “integral element” of reshaping policing.
“We must change or modify all laws that seek to limit or stop a victim’s right for justice and allow for violators actions to go unaccounted for. Qualified Immunity is just one piece of the puzzle, but it is an important one when criminal charges against the police are often difficult to prove or abandoned, leaving civil lawsuits as the only way for victims to seek redress,” Zane T. Crute, president of the Mystic Valley area branch of the NAACP testified.
The Massachusetts Law Enforcement Policy Group, which represents more than 16,000 officers called the changes “unfair and improper” in its written testimony. The coalition disagrees with the Senate’s approach to due process for police officers facing disciplinary action, changes to limit qualified immunity and its proposed makeup of a 15-member committee that would oversee officer certification, which it says doesn’t include enough representative from police departments.
Those same concerns were echoed by hundreds of individual officers, their families and police advocates. The Massachusetts Coalition of Police blamed the issues with the bill on the “haste” in which the Senate worked to pass it.