Back the Blue Act guts incentives to improve policing
In the past two years we’ve seen example after example of excessive force by police officers. Although they too often result in serious injury and death, these assaults rarely result in convictions or even prosecutions for the officers. In some cases, however, victims or families bring successful lawsuits. These serve, as personal injury lawsuits usually do, to bring changes to business as usual. Lawsuits for police abuse and excessive force are an important part of the drive to reform training and policies in police forces.
Tamir Rice murder: No indictment, $6 million settlement
A good example of these system failures is the murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, OH, just five days before Thanksgiving. The prosecutor failed to prosecute. Yet, 17 months later the City of Cleveland reached a $6 million settlement with Tamir’s family. It is too early to see what changes might result in policing in Cleveland.
The new U.S. Senate “Back the Blue” Act seeks to remove civil penalties as a tool to reform police departments.
The “Back the Blue Act” has been offered in the Senate in reaction to the recent fatal attacks on police. The Act increases penalties for harming a police officers, no matter how minor.
Robust civil penalties, a tool for change
This blog has made the point often that personal injury lawsuits help improve safety for all of us. Limits on compensation undercuts the ability to hold law enforcement accountable for horrible harm it sometimes inflicts.
Robust civil penalties for police misconduct and excessive force are particularly important. It is much more difficult to prosecute a law enforcement officer for assault or murder than to prosecute a civilian. Separate criminal laws for law enforcement personnel give them wide latitude in the use of deadly force. Although these laws, along with improved training, are currently under review, right now criminal law offers little help to end police attacks. Right now civil lawsuits remain the key tool available.
Back the Blue in its entirety is a gross overreach to address assaults on police officers. Federal law already addresses assaults on law officers. If the law passes, police officers who use excessive force will continue to escape prison and there will be little access to the courts for victims. The best way to address the recent problems with assaults on police is to quickly move to reform.
John Groseclose, Partner, GSJones Law Group, P.S.