Florida, other states expanding police powers and immunity

We’ve seen all the stories about blue states and cities enacting “police reform” designed to limit the options that officers have while arresting suspects or which weapons they can carry on duty. Some, like Maryland, have gone so far as to limit or remove the qualified immunity police officers have to protect them from nuisance lawsuits. But this has not been a uniform pattern around the country. To the great dismay of Democrats and their partners in the mainstream media, other states have been passing legislation designed to strengthen the police and better enable them to confront criminals, particularly during the riots that have become alarmingly common in our cities over the past couple of years. This week, the Associated Press took a rather biased look at the governors and mayors who have signed bills designed to keep the thin blue line from being torn to shreds. And one of the leaders on the list of usual suspects is Ron DeSantis of Florida.

After a year of protests over police brutality, some Republican-controlled states have ignored or blocked police-reform proposals, moving instead in the other direction by granting greater powers to officers, making it harder to discipline them and expanding their authority to crack down on demonstrations.

The sponsors of the GOP measures acted in the wake of the nationwide protests that followed George Floyd’s death, and they cited the disturbances and destruction that spread last summer through major U.S. cities, including Portland, New York and Minneapolis, where Floyd died at the hands of officers.

“We have to strengthen our laws when it comes to mob violence, to make sure individuals are unequivocally dissuaded from committing violence when they’re in large groups,” Florida state Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, a Republican, said during a hearing for an anti-riot bill that was enacted in April.

To their credit, the Associated Press at least recognizes that Florida hasn’t simply rejected all aspects of reforming police procedures. The state is preparing to pass a bill that will require additional use-of-force training for police officers. Arguing against more and better training strikes me as a losing proposition. Also, multiple states with GOP leadership have embraced mandatory body cameras for law enforcement officers. The argument in that debate is that cameras don’t just help identify rogue officers who are breaking the law. They also show what really happened during an encounter with a suspect to prevent false accusations of abuse from taking hold. Body cameras probably clear the names of far more cops than they help convict.

The linked report notes that Iowa also enacted a conservative version of police reform this month. Governor Kim Reynolds signed a bill on Thursday that actually expanded qualified immunity for the police rather than limiting or eliminating it. In the same measure, rioting was elevated to a felony. Unfortunately, the AP follows the typical liberal semantics describing that action as “enhancing penalties for protesters.” In reality, of course, nobody is arresting or prosecuting people for engaging in actual peaceful protests. They’re being arrested for looting and arson or wanton destruction of public and private property. None of those things are valid forms of protest.

So, are these new, conservative police reform laws just an example of “owning the libs” or are they needed measures? I would argue the latter. The reality is that policing is changing all around the country these days. Such reforms weren’t really needed in the past when police officers were widely respected and obeyed, even by many criminals. But liberals and the media (though I repeat myself) have stoked so much anti-cop sentiment around the country, particularly in our larger cities, that people are brazenly ignoring or even attacking police officers on the streets. And too many of these cities have also anointed new District Attorneys, prosecutors and police commissioners who are more interested in prosecuting cops than going after the actual criminals. So without some additional protections for the police, the exodus of qualified officers from these cities will continue and the safety of citizens and business owners will continue to erode.

There really is a terrible experiment playing out in many of these cities right now. That’s particularly true in New York City, where they are about to select a new Mayor. Whether this trend can be stopped and hopefully reversed isn’t up to the mayors and city council members. It’s up to the voters. And if they won’t help themselves, there isn’t anyone else who can.

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