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“Facts Matter Moments” Podcast – Chris Southwood on Hiring Police & Qualified Immunity

This episode of the “Facts Matter Moments” Podcast features special guest Chris Southwood.  Chris Southwood is the President of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police will be discussing hiring police and qualified immunity in this next podcast.

Hiring Police And Qualified Immunity

The concept of qualified Immunity was established as a shield, a protective shield against liability for all government clearly including law enforcement officers.  It’s a shield for those folks who unknowingly violate someone’s civil rights. It was created to reduce the number of unwarranted lawsuits faced by police. It is NOT, despite the claims of those who want to eliminate it, a shield against ALL lawsuits involving excessive force, illegal searches and other actions that officers get sued for. However, it does not protect bad cops. Qualified immunity only protects good police officers, that’s why it’s called qualified immunity. It is not an automatic defence, it has to be granted by a judge, and it’s qualified – you have to follow the rules and laws of your state. You have to follow the policies and procedures of your department, and so it’s qualified.

When Police Don’t Have Qualified Immunity

The best situation that it can be compared to is when an officer on the street is oftentimes faced with an individual who actually wants to commit suicide by the police. So if we use that as an example where an officer goes to a domestic location and there is an individual there who is armed and threatens family members or spouse or significant other. They might be armed, and the officer has no choice but to fire on the individual, use deadly force. Now, the officers followed every procedure he could possibly follow. In this case, he would be granted qualified immunity when he is sued, because he is undoubtedly going to get sued in a wrongful death lawsuit or a situation like that. However, the officer himself would be granted qualified immunity as long as he followed all the law, followed all the proper procedures, use of force, the whole 9 yards, and he would be granted qualified immunity and it would be a shield against him being sued.

Civil Lawsuits and Cases

This is very important because in civil lawsuits, oftentimes when there is a death, a civil jury, although they find no wrongdoing by the officer, but oftentimes there is a potential where they will go ahead and grant a judgement – a monetary judgement and those judgements can be significant. If an officer doesn’t have qualified immunity to protect himself, they would not want to work out on the field and take that chance to work the street and lose retirement, home and everything that they have. You are put in the situation where you don’t have any choice to do something. Then, if you faced a lawsuit and you lost just one time, and a judgement was awarded to a family member, through no fault of yours, you lose everything you have. That is the reason that police need qualified immunity.

Attempts to Abolish Qualified Immunity

There have been several attempts to abolish qualified immunity in a number of police reform bills, all across the nation. Thankfully, most of these bills have failed. However, unfortunately, last year in Colorado, it is one of the only 50 states that no longer allows law enforcement to seek qualified immunity in state lawsuits. What happened in Colorado is that many officers started to look at retirement, which leads to a loss of officers. Many of these officers aren’t close to retirement age, rather, they do not want to work under the present conditions and this has lead them to leave the force.

Hiring Law Enforcement

There is a growing concern about bringing new officers into the force. Colorado is having a difficult time with recruiting and hiring residents to become police officers – filling their training classes. What this results in is not enough law enforcement. There has to be enough “bodies on the ship” so to speak. This leads to a lowering of standards when it comes to hiring. The effects of this would be detrimental. There will be officers questioning whether or not they should be officers and if they are working under the right conditions. It’s more than just lowering the bar to entry for becoming an officer. It would also be a loss of qualified and experienced officers who don’t want to take the risk of losing everything and putting their family at risk. According to Chris Southwood, in Illinois, they are already seeing officers who are looking to move on to other states or a completely different profession in the event that they lose qualified immunity. “This bill is not about fairness. This law (SAFE-T) is not about fairness, it’s about the outright vilification of law enforcement in Illinois. Punishing the men and women who wear the badge will not make our streets and communities safer. If you want to reform policing and the criminal justice system in an effective manner, we have to repeal this horrible law”. Rep. Jim Durkin, Illinois House Republican leader, Chicago Tribune We have to do everything we can to protect qualified immunity – to further protect our officers and to protect the civilians on the street.