What is Qualified Immunity?
Qualified Immunity is a legal doctrine created by JUDGES. It was never requested or voted into law by the people, and there was no democratic process involved in it's creation. It is a made up legal rule created to shield the government when one of it's actors violates the Constitutional Rights of a citizen in order to protect government officials from liability when they harm people. It regularly denies the application of justice that Conservatives so dearly value and severely undermines government accountability. Essentially, qualified immunity is a "get out of trouble free" card that is played by government officials when they are caught doing something against the law.
Qualified Immunity is the Opposite of Personal Responsibility!
A core value of every Conservative is that individuals need to take responsibility for their own actions. Speak with any man, woman, or child from rural Oklahoma and you will quickly observe that their values expect that people take responsibility for their choices and actions. There is little if any room to blame misbehavior on any external factors and embrace an ideology that one should lift themselves up past such shortcomings, and be held accountable when one fails to do so.
However, "this commitment to accountability and personal responsibility goes out the window when the person in question is a police officer rather than a drug addict". Qualified immunity enables police and other government official to get cases for civil-rights violations thrown out even when there is no dispute that an individual's rights were indeed violated! Even though Congress enacted law for the purpose of protecting the rights of citizens, qualified immunity often times shuts down cases brought under those statutes before their merit is even fully explored by the court.
Conservative Value of Limited Government
The extraordinary powers given to the government for policing and prosecuting crimes allows for an extremely wide amount of discretion. Police often "look the other way" and prosecutors have much latitude in deciding which cases to prosecute and how harshly to do so. The inability to prevent either of these positions from using their powers arbitrarily or with abuse is in direct contradiction with the Conservative value of limiting government power and keeping it "in check".
Most internal accountability systems inside these offices, here in Oklahoma, are not accounted for by the voters and enhance an already existing conflict of interest between police and prosecutors who work so closely together that much misconduct is ignored. Tax Payers and Civilians are "kept in the dark" when these agencies utilize their discretion to either deny or limit the information provided to the public and media. Civil litigation is the only recourse for real accountability that all citizens have equal access to, and in Oklahoma, federal civil rights cases are rarely mentioned in the media, although they are litigated frequently within courts that require payment through PACER to access. It falls on our State Government to embrace the full principals behind our Open Records Statutes and remove the exceptions that prevent us from properly monitoring the institutions charged with policing and prosecuting us all.
The Value of Fiscal Responsibility
We all hate deficit spending! We all desire lower taxes! This argument is simple, the way Qualified Immunity is currently practiced, the result is HIGHER taxes. Not to mention the costs to the taxpayers prior to settlement. In Oklahoma, the District Attorney (funded by local taxes) is responsible for defending police from such claims, and these cases consume an immense amount of time that the DA could spend tending to other needs of the county. Not to mention that the tax payers are paying for it all, start to end.... But wait, it gets worse!
Who pays the civil litigation settlement?
When a civil rights suit is either settled, or the police and other agencies are found liable, it is the LOCAL county tax payers who foot the bill! Either with tax increases or with budget reductions to other much needed services in order to pay the liability. Individual police officers rarely, if ever, end up coming out of their own pocket, regardless of how blatantly and grotesquely their actions were. Which brings us back to personal responsibility. The officer may possibly be let go from the department, but often times, CLEET does not revoke their licensing for whatever reason, and they move on to the next small, often poor community, and commit similar conduct, then the cycle repeats.... These are what we call GYPSY COPS, and they walk among us, the departments just keep it quiet.
The value of The Rule of Law
Law and order are a necessity for a civilized community. No one can argue against that fact. This value is at the very core of conservative values and the very reason we all support law enforcement. It would be naïve and remiss to ignore that their are officer who break the law, whether intentional or not, it happens. Our country was built on the patriotic value that no man is above the law! Qualified Immunity does just that, it places an individual above the law even in circumstances where they knowingly broke the law they took an oath to uphold. This legal farce puts sometimes criminal behavior outside the reach of law. Not only is it Unconstitutional, it is unpatriotic, and a slap in the face to every conservative who values accountability.
The Value of Free Markets and the SOLUTION!
Did you know there is only ONE insurance provider for EVERY county in the State of Oklahoma? Yes, the ACCO! And they cannot be sued for bad faith because it is entitled to "sovereign immunity"! That means that anything the insurer does not cover, the tax payers do, and the insurer cannot be sued into providing coverage if they choose not to. Imagine if you will, you purchase car insurance, a covered loss occurs, but your insurance provider refuses to pay... what do you do? You sue! Well, tax payers can't do that when it comes to ACCO and county liability (who is the entity held liable when Sheriff's Departments are sued). So, if a Sheriff Deputy violates a person's rights and gets sued, the ACCO can refuse the claim and the county (aka: TAXPAYERS) are on the hook for paying the damages!
How do we solve this?!
The problem of "weeding out the bad apples" can and should be solved. Not just for the safety of the public, but to ensure the integrity of the institutions, as well as to practice fiscal responsibility! And there is a solution that can do just that.
Public Disclosure and Private Insurance!
If the State of Oklahoma required ALL brady disclosures to be disclosed (as is their Constitutional obligation to do so), the Brady List platform would not only become a resource for departments when making hiring decisions, it would also become a data base that insurance companies could utilize for implementing liability policies for individual officers. Companies such as Travelers already provide such policies.
Doing away with Qualified Immunity and replacing it with personal liability insurance for police officers and public officials would protect land owners and tax payers from carrying the financial burden of bad policing. An officer with multiple issues would at some point become uninsurable and would therefore be unable to continue his licensure. It would enable CLEET to make better licensing decisions proactively instead of only reacting once someone has been irreparably harmed.
Doing away with Qualified Immunity is simple, and very much in the self interest of EVERY man, woman, or child who holds true Conservative values, loves the State of Oklahoma, and believes in justice for all!