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Live Mic: Ideas for needed police reform

Police arrest a protester during a solidarity rally for George Floyd on Saturday, May 30, 2020, in New York. Protests were held throughout the city over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

SALT LAKE CITY — Racism and police brutality have collided once again in America, yet this time the drumbeat for police reform seems louder and more insistent than ever. 

Molly Davis, a criminal justice policy analyst for the Libertas Institute of Utah, joined Lee Lonsberry to discuss criminal justice reforms in the wake of George Floyd’s death — an unarmed and restrained black man — in police custody in Minneapolis.

One step towards police reform: body cameras for all cops

“Walk us through a few of the reforms that you would like to see enacted?” Lee asked.

“One of the things we want to see that we’ve been working on for quite some time is body-camera legislation. We want to see every police officer equipped with a body camera,” Davis said.

She said the legislation should include a mandate that the camera be operating, especially in high-risk situations, such as conducting search warrants of a home or a car. 

“These past few weeks and months have proven the importance of video footage, especially in the cases of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery,” Davis said. “Without the video camera, who knows where these cases would’ve gone?”

Arbery, 25, an unarmed black man who was jogging down a street in Georgia, was shot and killed in February while allegedly being pursued by two white men in a pickup. 

The shooting was recorded on video by William “Roddie” Bryan, who was following Arbery in a second vehicle.

A local attorney provided a copy of the shooting video to local radio station WGIG, which posted it to their website on May 5.

Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory, were charged with felony murder on May 7. On May 21, Bryan was arrested and charged with felony murder and attempted false imprisonment.

Davis said some police departments chose not to equip officers with body cameras because of the cost.

“But we think the benefits outweigh the costs,” she said, adding that the state’s forfeiture grant program could be used to help defray the cost.

End qualified immunity for cops

“So we’re clear, your proposals are all targeted at state-level law — is that correct — or do you expand to the federal level at all?” Lee asked.

“Yeah, mostly state level. We do have one federal proposal that we talked about that is kind of out of our hands, but we’re still encouraging Congress and the US Supreme Court to take action. What that is is the doctrine of qualified immunity,”  Davis said.

Qualified immunity is a legal doctrine in U.S. federal law that shields government officials from being sued for discretionary actions performed within their official capacity unless their actions violated “clearly established” federal law or constitutional rights.

Former Republican Rep. Justin Amash (L-Mich.) and progressive Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) have joined forces to introduce a bill in the House that would eliminate the controversial doctrine of qualified immunity for police officers, according to a Law & Crime report.

“When an officer violates a person’s rights, the affected parties may try to sue. And because of qualified immunity which shields individual government actors from suit, the government agency ends up financially responsible for their actions. This is harmful to taxpayers who pay for the mistakes of bad actors, and bad policy for agencies as it disincentivizes personal responsibility because of lack of individual liability.”   

Police Reform? Here are Past and Future Ideas, Libertas Institute

“If that doctrine [of qualified immunity] were to be upended, that may require officers to purchase something akin to liability insurance or malpractice insurance like a doctor. Explain that to me?” Lee asked.

“Under the status quo, an individual can’t sue an individual actor in government,” Davis said. “So George Floyd’s family, for example, would have an nearly impossible time holding the officers accountable as individuals in the civil courts.

“What happens in these cases when they can’t hold an individual accountable is they often go to the whole entity — the police department as a whole — and sue them, which results in the cost landing on taxpayers’ heads. It doesn’t uphold any individual accountability for the officers who actually partook in the misconduct incident,” Davis said.

Under Libertas Institute’s proposal, individual officers should be required to purchase liability insurance so they can be held personally responsible when civil lawsuits occur, she said.

Other professions require liability insurance, such as doctors having malpractice insurance, “but for some reason, we have this really high-risk job of police officers and we don’t require insurance under the status quo. So that’s something that we really think would help with personal accountability in the policing system,” Davis said.

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.