The Qualified Immunity Clause
". . . officers are not liable for damages “as long as their actions reasonably could have been thought consistent with the rights they are alleged to have violated.”11 As protective as the language in these post-Harlow cases would suggest qualified immunity is, qualified immunity is not appropriate if a law enforcement officer violates a clearly established constitutional right." ref
Four Ideas That Could Begin to Reform the Criminal Justice System and Improve Police-Community Relations
Increase the use of special prosecutors in police misconduct investigations
Enhance the collection of data on fatalities involving police
Implement implicit bias training for all federal law-enforcement officers and state and local police involved in federal task forces
Increase the federal government’s oversight of police conduct
Eight Ways to Get Serious About Police Reform
- Bring Back the FBI Data on Police-Involved Shootings
- Require More Detailed Local Data on Police Shootings
- Take Prosecutors Off Cases That Involve Police Shootings
- Abandon the Grand Jury Process for Good
- Put Cameras on Police, and Researchers on Cameras
- Reaffirm a Police Duty To Retreat (stand back)
- Ask Law Enforcement To Pay for Their Stuff
- Rethink the Entire Premise of American Government?
Do cops need personal liability insurance?
he most common piece of advice that all legal professionals we spoke with offered was, stay within your professional scope.
If you act within your scope of employment, the department will likely cover your legal fees during lawsuits.
“As long as the incident occurred within the course and scope of the officer's employment, and the officer was not on a personal rampage (in deliberate disregard of the department's interests), chances are usually good to very good that only the department will pay, even though the officer faces the potential of liability,” according to Nelson Miller, associate dean of Western Michigan University’s Cooley Law School.
Nelson also advises that the first and best option is to expect and pursue your department's insurance and defense if you are within your scope and face a lawsuit. Joining forces with your department saves face for them, too.
“One of the worst ways for a department to defend a claim against it is to blame the officer,” said Nelson. “By doing so, the department is also pointing the finger at itself.”
In other words, if you aren’t doing anything wrong, your department should have your back.
EVEN WITH THE ODDS IN A LEO’S FAVOR, ARE THERE SITUATIONS WHERE AN OFFICER PAYS?
In some instances, a police officer will be sued and the police department will not cover the legal expenses. While these cases are rare, it still happens. So, when would a police officer be on the hook for his or her own defense?
Let’s dive into some legal jargon:
As a police officer, you should understand U.S. Code Section 1983, which speaks to civil action for deprivation of rights. As Rob Horst of Horst Law Firm explains, “If there is a 1983 (civil rights action) the police officer can be held personally liable.”
Section 1983 typically deals with:
- First Amendment issues like freedom of speech
- Fourth Amendment issues like search and seizure or use of force
- Eighth Amendment issues like cruel and unusual punishment
- 14th Amendment claims of due process violations
Section 1983 ensures that police officers respect a personal’s federal Bill of Rights freedoms. It relates to law enforcement in the following ways, according to Nelson:
- For officers, a Section 1983 claim would usually arise from excessive-force claims for allegedly shooting or beating an unarmed suspect when that force was more than necessary to accomplish the lawful restraint objective.
- For corrections officers, the risk of a Section 1983 claim would usually arise from cruel-and-unusual punishment like an alleged denial of medical treatment for a known serious medical need, excessive restraint or isolation, deprivation of food or other necessities or for other allegedly cruel treatment.
- First Amendment claims can arise when the involved officers direct their action toward silencing the claimant's speech or interfering with an assembly, such as in dispersing a public protest or march.
Many people allege excessive force claims, but they are very difficult to prove. In fact, says Horst, many police officers will have these cases dismissed prior to a jury trial. source