Rep. Tom McClintock on Police Reform: End Qualified Immunity, Open Police Records

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Qualified immunity for police officers and public officials denies citizens the legal remedy for violations of their constitutional rights at the hands of authorities, said Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), offering his recommendations for police reform in an interview on SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Sunday with host Joel Pollak.

Pollak asked about discussions of police reform against the backdrop of the death of George Floyd and subsequent unrest.

“This doctrine of qualified immunity … has no place in a nation ruled by law,” McClintock stated. He explained how qualified immunity shields police officers and public officials “from being sued for violating someone’s constitutional rights, except under very very limited circumstances.”

McClintock added, “[Qualified immunity] denies the remedy that people need to enforce their constitutional rights.”

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Conservatives should support an end to qualified immunity, McClintock advised, reflecting on former IRS Director Lois Lerner’s enjoyment of qualified immunity following her politicized denial of charitable and nonprofit statuses to conservative organizations during the Obama administration.

McClintock stated, “If conservatives tend to balk at that, I would ask them, why is it that Tea Party members who had the terrifying powers of the IRS turned upon them can’t sue Lois Lerner for the damages she incurred? It’s because of qualified immunity.”

Ending qualified immunity for police officers and law enforcement officials would increase the incentive of police departments to reduce and prevent police misconduct, assessed McClintock.

“Police departments routinely indemnify police officers, so the financial burden would fall on the department [if qualified immunity is ended],” McClintock said, “but it would give that department a very strong incentive not to tolerate misconduct, and not to sweep it under the rug.”

McClintock continued, “Police [are] an extension of the public. Remember, the police don’t have any police powers that every member of the public also has. The difference is, every member of the public can be sued for misusing those powers. So should the police.”

McClintock called for the opening of police records to enhance transparency and the accountability of law enforcement authorities to the public.

“Police records need to be open to the public,” McClintock noted. “Police are public servants. They work for the public, and the public has a right to know what they’re doing with the authority that the public has loaned them.”

McClintock went on, “We ought to be very careful about transforming these departments into paramilitary operations by providing them with battlefield implements that have no place in law enforcement and in individual neighborhoods. The no-knock warrants, which have been lethal to both citizens and police, the invasion of somebody’s home is a terrifying power of government. People have a right to take to arms when there is a home invader. If the police are executing a warrant and entering someone’s home, they need to announce that authority before they enter the home, otherwise you’re going to have a gunfight.”

Police unions often impair police departments’ capacities to address police misconduct, noted McClintock.

“Why is all of this going on in left-wing cities?” asked McClintock. “Police unions tend to dominate the politics [in big cities] and protect the bullies and bad apples in these police departments. That’s why we’re having incidents like this.”

McClintock said, “I think we have to get back to the fundamental principles of policing that we have drifted away from as unions have usurped the role of cities in overseeing the conduct of police departments. The vast majority of police officers we met on the playground. They’re the big kids of who would stand up for the little kids who were being bullied. Unfortunately, law enforcement also attracts some of the bullies.”

McClintock concluded, “The whole reason we have civilian control of the police departments is to assure that bad apples can be weeded out immediately. Well, you can’t do that when the police unions are running these big-city police departments.”

Police union protection of incompetent and abusive police officers amounts to a usurpation of civilian oversight of law enforcement, concluded McClintock, describing his view “a very conservative position.”

Breitbart News Sunday broadcasts live on SiriusXM Patriot 125 from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

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