Police shouldn’t fear the new civil rights bill

Santa Fe New Mexican

The New Mexico Legislature is debating a civil rights bill that would expand the remedies available to people whose rights are violated by police officers. Police unions, sheriffs and local governments are signaling opposition. But as a former police officer who now studies policing and crime, I think that opposition is misguided.

House Bill 4 has two components. First, it would give persons whose civil rights are violated the right to receive monetary damages. Currently, plaintiffs in excessive force claims can’t be compensated if they prevail. This makes the protections of the state constitution little more than paper barriers to misconduct.

The bill would also prohibit the use of “qualified immunity” as a defense by police. Qualified immunity permits officers to avoid liability if they can show their conduct wasn’t a clear, knowing constitutional violation — not just illegal conduct, but “clearly established” as illegal under closely similar factual scenarios.

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