One to think about…

This is a interesting perspective from an anonymous nurse, but definitely bears consideration…

I am a member of America’s most statistically trusted profession: nursing. I work the night shift on call position in one of the most dangerous cities in the United States, covering four counties, as a hospice nurse. I go where the patient is. That means that if a patient in the inner city is in distress at 2am, that’s where I go. If a patient death occurs at midnight in a trailer park with a known meth issue, I’m off to the trailer park. I work in every weather condition and have driven over an hour in a blizzard to reach a patient. I work holidays. I work when there’s civil unrest in an area. I also work alone. I have a team that I can contact if needed for some issues, but I’m the only nurse for well over 100 patients spread out over a huge geographical area, and I have had several incidents of putting over 400 miles on my car in a single night.

I have long considered the police to be on the same team as me. I’ve been notified of patient deaths and issues by the police. I’ve had them stay with a grieving family until I could get there. I’ve had them help me lift a patient off the floor. I know that there are a lot of really good and extremely dedicated police officers in the country, and I really do appreciate their efforts. The officers that I’ve interacted with, both personally and professionally, have mostly been professionals doing a difficult job. That said, I can no longer support qualified immunity as a policy. 

There are a lot of valid reasons why the policy was passed to start with. Police officers are often in dangerous and complex situations in which there is a good chance that they will have to use deadly force in a completely appropriate manner. Criminals making false claims of rights violations happens frequently. People suing for utter nonsense happens all the time, and there’s no penalty for filing a baseless lawsuit. Having officers be sued personally for acting reasonably in the course of their duties is disruptive, time consuming, and theoretically acts as a deterrent that keeps talented individuals from entering the field. On the face of it, it makes sense that qualified immunity would be extended to police officers just as much as judicial immunity and legislative immunity is granted to lawmakers and judges. At one time, I agreed that it was necessary. Given the degree to which it’s been expanded and abused, however, that time is long past. 

Philip Brailsford played the world’s highest stakes game of Simon Says with the intoxicated but completely innocent Daniel Shaver, who lost the game and his life after being shot five times at short range by Brailsford. No reasonable person could consider Brailsford’s actions justified after learning the details of the case. Yet he was protected by qualified immunity from civil lawsuits. He was not arrested and charged criminally, despite the fact that his actions and words leading up to the shooting are a very clear indication of premeditated murder. Instead he enjoys an early retirement in the amount of $2,500/month in taxpayer dollars. 

Michael Vickers fired his weapon at a dog that displayed no signs of aggression in an apparent attempt to kill the family dog in front of the children he had forced to lay on the ground while other officers searched for a fleeing suspect. Instead, he shot a ten year old boy fewer than 18 inches away in the knee and then forced the child to lay on the ground with a bullet in his knee for an extended period of time rather than immediately calling for medical assistance. The injury required surgery, will require ongoing physical therapy, and will very likely be a source of lifelong pain for the child. Vickers was protected by qualified immunity from civil lawsuits and he was not arrested and charged with any of the myriad crimes that apply to recklessly shooting an unarmed and completely harmless child. Any other citizen would have been.

These cases are both horrific abuses. They’re far from the only ones. It seems that there’s thousands of them floating around. The police department or city can be sued, resulting in the taxpayers being on the hook for whatever settlement was reached or whatever judgment was awarded. This doesn’t even take money from the police department’s budget. The officers are completely protected from facing the consequences that any other person would when they violate the rights of others. They’re rarely charged, and they can’t be sued. 

Compare that to my job. I am liable for criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits, personally, for actions taken while on the job. Should a patient or their family ever sue me, I will have to go to court and defend myself at my own expense unless I carry malpractice insurance. Should I ever make a mistake that results in injury of a patient, I face the very real possibility of going to prison. I will almost certainly be fired and lose my licence to practice. I work long hours, often on little sleep. I frequently end up skipping meals or being so busy that I don’t have time to stop at a gas station and empty my bladder between patients. This is all standard for nurses. We work in high stress situations, which are almost always the worst days of someone’s life. We are frequently attacked and insulted by patients and/or their families and friends. We are not permitted to carry a gun for protection in hospitals or in care facilities. If we’re lucky, we may have security available to secure a patient who has gotten violent. I, personally, do not. I am entirely reliant on the good will of the communities I serve while I am out and about seeing patients. Despite all of that, we are called upon to provide the highest level of care to each and every patient. And if we fail to provide adequate care, we face very real consequences. 

Consider the case of Jeff Payne, who took emergency room nurse Alex Wubbels into custody when she refused to draw blood from an unconscious patient in complete violation of the law. Let me reiterate, she was manhandled and taken into custody for refusing to break the law. The former officer in question was fired, though there is some recent indication that he will be allowed to return to work. The city reached a settlement with Ms. Wubbels, paying her with the money they extorted from taxpayers. The officer, however, was personally protected from civil liability by qualified immunity. He was not charged with false arrest, battery, or assault; all of which he clearly did commit against her. He was not charged with deprivation of rights under color of law, which he also clearly committed. Ms. Wubbels would have committed criminal battery if she had drawn that blood, and she would have been personally liable in any civil action the patient or his family wished to bring against her later.

Police officers are not required to actually know the law. This has been well established by case law, and they can enforce their own “reasonable” idea of what the law is even when they’re wrong. In far too many cases, their victims end up charged with something unrelated to the situation anyway, or ticketed, to justify the officer’s illegal intervention in their lives. This problem is rampant in cities across America. Even when the victim is released afterwards, they’ve still been arrested and had their lives disrupted for the crime of doing absolutely wrong. I am required to know every facet of my job, and be an expert in my field. It is my professional responsibility to stay abreast of the law and ignorance of the law is not a defense if I break it. This too is established by case law, and any number of people find themselves charged with and convicted of crimes without having previously known that their actions were illegal. Yet those we charge with enforcing the law are not even required to know what it is. 

Even aside from the civil and criminal penalties for a mistake, my patients and their families rely on me to know what to do in their moment of crisis. They trust me to act in an ethical manner, and to put their care ahead of myself and my own interests. It is truly a privilege to be trusted so much, and I seek every day to live up to that. It is also a heavy responsibility. The trust that we place in police officers is even more important to the health of a civil society. If people stop trusting nurses, they may delay care or become even less compliant with medications and needed lifestyle changes than they currently are. When people stop trusting law enforcement, social bonds are damaged to the detriment of everyone. Police officers have a vast amount of discretion and an enormous amount of power over average citizens.

I still respect the vast majority of law enforcement officers. I appreciate the difficult job they do, the long hours they work, and the extraordinary professionalism most of them show. As I said before, we’re on the same team out there in the community. The level of abuse happening in that field is simply too high. There are too many perverse incentives and not enough accountability. Bad officers are protected and the good are marred with the lack of public trust that protection is causing. It is high time that police officers face the same personal accountability in the course of their duties that I face in the course of mine. That is the proper first step for drumming out the officers that are damaging public trust and restoring the trust that has been lost.

I have heard similar comments from PP, and others in the medical field over the years. The ‘dissatisfaction’ if you will, has increased with the militarization of the LEOs, by both professionals and John Q. Public. The sad part, in my mind, is that the few bad apples are dragging down the entire profession. Especially when you see these LEOs get their jobs back, and go right back to what they were doing before.

I also know LEOs who are dead set on weeding out the bad apples in their departments, and are constantly on the lookout for ‘attitudes’… I wish more did this.

And I sadly have to agree with the nurse, it’s time to do away with qualified immunity.

Your comments/perspectives are appreciated.


One to think about… — 29 Comments

  1. My dad was a Texas Peace Officer. One of the old breed. He was hired in 62, then recruited into Lubbock in 65. Those were rough years, LBB had about the same crime rate as Dallas or Houston back then. All those major roads coming in to the “Hub of the Plains” brought bad as well as good.

    He saw this coming, even commenting to me that the quality of recruits was so low, he doubted they could keep a job at a hamburger joint. With the interactions I’ve had in our small town, I don’t expect much. Most if not all the patrolmen live in San Antonio, so they have ZERO skin in the game in this town. It’s just a job in Schmuckville. Until officers are treated as adults (as stated in the article) they will act like they do. Plain and simple. What you reward you encourage.

  2. I don’t have an answer to this problem other than limited liability should be offered on a case by case basis after review by competent authority.
    My problem is that I don’t know who/what is competent authority.

  3. I’m in agreement with the nurse. In my extended family there are/were several LEOs. Most outstanding. One “bad apple” was so rotten he was fired off the LA police while in the Rampart Division during the Rodney King era. Few things anger me quicker than a badge heavy cop.

  4. The good cops will suffer. In identity politics, there are no individuals, and cops are the ultimate identity group.
    The actions of the bad cop taint them all. Officer A-Hole messes with a citizen, the citizen will end up hating all cops, not just Officer Hole.
    In the long run, the thin blue line of all cops defending each other, regardless of the validity of the defense, will end up hurting them all.
    Worst of all, Greshams law applies in more than economics-bad cops will drive out the good cops.

  5. Law enforcement hires more than its share of bullies: those who are attracted by the badge, the gun, and the authoriteh. I saw it to a limited extent in Smalltown, Missouri, while on the force in the ’80s. One sees it with almost every exposure to modern-day LEOs in the nearby big city. For every decent cop in a standard uniform, there are three geared-up tacticool “operators” looking like they’re shipping out to Kabul later today. And we have our share of “I’ma arrest ’em ’cause they didn’t respect mah authority”, too. The public perception of the APD is at an all-time low, and it’s no wonder why.

  6. I disagree with her on officers not having to know the law; of course they do, and everyone and everybody right now is out to catch them if they don’t. Likewise qualified immunity is necessary. Police are the true first responder, they go into situations where no one knows what is going on, EMS and firefighters (they call police “blue canaries”) are staged until the situation, whatever it is, is stabilized. She is right about everyone being after her. She is to blame for everyone’s mistakes unless she can show her innocence and it really is the doctor, or phamacies, or supervisors fault. She is supposed to catch the doctor or pharmacy drug errors, for example. That is because she is at the bottom, on the interface, just like the officers that everyone wants to blame for everything, so the upper echelons won’t be affected. The difference is she knows what is happening where she is going. Her patients and families know her and trust her. If she is covering for another nurse, the family will not be as happy, she is not “their” nurse.
    Also all nurses are not blamed for the malicious, criminal or stupid actions of other nurses. Officers today are the nicest, best trained there ever been, think about law enforcement in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Hiring is directed by the politicians and government. As far as uniforms, officers wear what they are told to wear. “Respect my authority”, many young people put in a position of any power have to be trained by something or someone to gain perspective. Never seen that in the military, for example? Officers are drawn from society, and let’s face it, society has coarsened dramatically. The public perception is low because of the continuing drumbeat of anti police publicity. Any incident, anywhere in the United States is publicised everywhere and is built up. Do that for teachers and nurses and the results would be the same. Blame supervison and politicians, if your police don’t act right. There are bullies in every field, medical, military, legal and otherwise and the results there are horrific as well. Right now you hear pretty much the same talk and complaints as in the 70s. The marxists want, just as then, the local police gone, replaced with a national police force. The police aren’t any more militarized than they have been. They are no longer patroling with a revolver and a 870, that is true, but that reflects changes in the hazards faced. In the 70s the left wanted the police to wear blazers and be disarmed, without titles like Captain or Sergeant. You will find everyone knows just how to do someone else’s job.

    • Police are hired on the explicit basis that they not be smart. That’s federal case law. Very sad, but undeniably true.

  7. I should have said officers have to know the law as best they can. You can read the penal code and see what it says. But that isn’t the law. That depends on the latest court decision on that code. And it isn’t fixed, it changes in bizarre ways every time congress is in session and then the courts interpet it again. You ask about a law and you are directed to a DA for an “opinion”. You can’t go back to that well all the time. So you do the best you can to keep up, because you are supposed to.

  8. I see the yin and yang in this. Taking away qualified immunity leaves the righteous actions of a good cop open to be sued. People can sue for any reason. Perhaps if the DA or CO of the police department said no immunity for an action might work. But what CO will do that to a cop under him?

    • The cause and effect is that police will do less. And if that’s the goal, it’s the right way to move forward.

      The police just have to wait long enough for bad-guy shooters to exhaust their ammo, or the rapist to ‘shoot his load’ and run away. Then they arrive, take a report and it’s time for Code 7.

      That’s what happened at LAPD after Rodney King. Nothing was Code 3 anymore. The attitude was, “Protect and Serve when we F-ing feel like it…”

      Where I live now, there is only one resident deputy with his back-up rolling from 1.5 hours away. We sort of police ourselves. That’s what will happen, and it’s fine with me. But is that really what people want?

  9. Statistically Torts are the most effective means of making effective changes.

    However, they are police OFFICERS, they should be held to a higher standard. Officers in the military are supposed to get stiffer punishments than enlisted because they have more trust. Police who let the badge heavy cops run around are eroding the trust the public has in police, i.e. they are doing it to themselves. However, in some cases it is political. Politicians don’t understand accountability.

  10. Bottom line- Qualified immunity protects those cops whose actions are so egregious that they would be facing career ending criminal charges a ridiculous number of times. Good cops NEED NO SUCH PROTECTION. A bad cop is NOT an asset to a Department, nor to the tax payers who PAY them. AND NO , Cops are NOT experts on what is legal vs. illegal, and as a group, make many bad calls which they then have to trump up other charges to cover up. Happens daily. Sometimes news outlets hear of it, and a fraction of those times, they will make some mention of same. SOMETIMES, police will fabricate evidence of a crime in order to log another arrest- entire careers have been based on such. We hear of it in the media on those rare occasions when there is simply no hiding it. I’m with the nurse on this- the expose’ is well presented and factual.

  11. It’s ALWAYS cause and effect. It has been proven in court many times the LEOs have NO duty to protect. Lester, I have to agree to disagree with you on this. LL, I understand your point, but in a lot of metro areas that is already happening, and has been for a while.

    Ev- Snerk… That works. LOT less drop at range.

    Posted from my iPhone.

  12. My position is as usual.

    Take tools away from law enforcement, and they will in practice solve less problems.

    There are two elements to the fundamental conflict. One is the expectations Americans have for security. I can’t think of a better word for the other than diversity, but here defined in terms of a society containing both those with a strong expectation of personal security and murderous druggies.

    American expectations of security were formed in a different environment, and may no longer hold.

    Changing the expectations is one possible result of police no longer solving as many problems. Another is the American people trying to solve things more directly. Which is a theoretical possibility.

    As long as we have recreational drug use, we will have druggies ending up dead. And people who want to litigate those deaths. One option is a bunch of laws establishing that druggy deaths are presumed lawful. The status quo includes qualified immunity. Another possibility is a consensus by society that a blind eye will be turned to certain vigilante killings.

    I submit that we do not know the circumstances that would result in widespread support for vigilante killers, and do not understand the full ramifications of removing qualified immunity. This is a problem space where a bad option can still be the least of evils.

    That said, I deliberately have no professional stake in law enforcement. I am out of step with American culture on a number of relevant issues. If it were my own profession to shepherd, I might be singing a very different tune. Then, instead of quibbling over statistical significance and Chesterton’s fence, the question would be whether my own practice is correct, and what I am doing to improve the profession.

  13. I don’t know why, in this day and age, law enforcement isn’t a licensed profession, akin to nursing, medicine, law, architecture, etc. Becoming an RN requires a couple of years of college prerequisites plus two years in a diploma program learning nursing, or completing a four year BSN program. Nursing is a profession that has profound effects on patients. Law enforcement is a profession that has profound effects on anyone interacting with police – seems to me it ought to come with professional licensure, continuing education requirements, malpractice insurance, etc. But I could be completely wrong…..

    • If you regulated law enforcement with a state board, that’s one entity to put pressure on all law enforcement in the entire state. Federal, the whole US. And frankly, with Federal funding of law enforcement programs, the state boards might wind up captured by the Department of Justice. Imagine American police stump broke to the Justice bureaucracy the way American teachers are stump broke to the Education bureaucracy. “Dear colleagues…”

      Teachers are one case that fancy training and complex regulatory apparatus have made the occupation substantially worse. All those theses and dissertations written, and no one discussing that perhaps the decision to specialize was a mistake, given difficulties of measuring humans, and perhaps all of modern education research is basically epicycles on a flawed approach.

      Lawyers and judges are another case where I would argue that ‘professionalization’ now results in group think that may be a cause of destructive side effects.

      Add in accounting and engineering, your list of licensees includes a lot of independent contractors selling to the public. Police tend to be hired by governments, and have a fairly strong bureaucratic influence that way.

      Additionally, if you are not also considering tradesmen as an example, you implicitly suggest tertiary/academic training. Book based learning. I’ve read books on police oriented social skills. I’m still bad at social situations. Make a degree a gateway, and with government bureaucracy, advanced degrees will be key to promotion. That will do bad things to law enforcement. Very bad things if to get those degrees they start figuring out how to do scientifically valid law enforcement, which is very incompatible with Anglo-American traditions. Third bad thing it does is filter for wealthy ish people from stable families. How is that bad? It is politically fraught when they are enforcing laws against poor people who didn’t grow up in a stable family.

      Purely trolling now, having political opinions is a profession with profound effects, should it be licensed? (Trolling, because the answer is obvious. RN and MD have a knowledge of poisons that impresses the layman. Likewise legal babble, architecture/engineering, and accounting gibberish. There’s a reputation, and telling good from bad work may require an initiate. Political opinions impress no one but children.)

  14. We could go the the German model of policing. They can use the nightstick all they like, but get investigated for homicide by a separate department (like any normal citizen) if they fire their weapon.

  15. From a LEO friend that retired after 23+ years on the job.

    I don’t know where she gets her information. Officers are liable criminally and civilly for what they do wrong. We all pay for legal representation in the event we are in a shooting, a civil suit, etc etc.

    The city attorney represents the city, they may act like they have the officers best interests at heart….but they do not. City attorneys are paid by the city and will ultimately represent the city not the officer. That is why we officers pay for representation. If I’m sued, I have to defend myself from the citizens as well as the city (employer) who may/will throw the officer under the bus to protect the city.

    • Provide a list of all officers whose qualified immunity was revoked, and they were subsequently sued individually, set on the street, penniless, after screwing up with great magnitude.

      Just spitballing, but I’ll wager the tally count in 50 states for 50 years could be counted on my thumbs.

      Then for laughs, tell the class the last 100 police officers convicted of murder on duty under color of authority since 1960, and which ones of them were executed for their crimes. Ever.

      The prosecution rests, your Honor.

  16. I disagree.

    Let them keep qualified immunity.

    Instead, in 99% of all cases, require them to work unarmed. No guns whatsoever. No taser. No baton. No knives. No sap. No leaded gloves. No dogs. No OC spray nor CS nor mace. No bullet-resistant vests, either.
    They can have a radio, a pen, and a citation book. Any flashlight smaller than 3″ in length, maximum, and no serrations or sharp edges anywhere on it.
    And a whistle.
    Nothing else but harsh language.

    Unless there’s an actual armed crime in progress, in which case their special reaction unit only may have weapons issued, on the authority of the chief, and only until the incident is cleared.

    They either learn to do their jobs bare-handed, or they die, or they quit.
    I don’t give a flying fornication which choice they make, because any way you slice it, the republic is better served.

    Do that, and change nothing else.
    I’m fine with what happens afterwards.

  17. The thing about ‘Qualified Immunity’ is that it shouldn’t cover an awful lot of behavior that it has been judged to cover. It should exist. It should NOT cover a cop caught doing something nobody with any sense would do.


    Whacha gonna do?

    I’m over the half-century mark. And I’m a weisenheimer. Nevertheless I have only had ONE run in with a nasty cop, and his own department loathed him and was just WAITING for him to do something they could can him over.

    But I’m white, middle class, and generally boring. So my interactions with cops are rare.

    Reading, it sees there are too many Police who have been binging reruns of the old UNTOUCHABLES TV show. Pity they aren’t watching DRAGNET instead. Sgt. Friday may have been a stiff, but he didn’t shout much, knocked on doors rather than kick them in, and didn’t drive a tank.

  18. The courts have said there is no duty to protect, but you won’t keep your job, at least where I am. Suicide isn’t expected or required, but you better show up and do your best.
    Nik, in our state you have to be licensed, there are continuing education requirements, and most carry insurance because qualified immunity doesn’t cover much.
    For many years we weren’t as well armed on duty as the citizenry we worked for, except at home where we were usually as well armed as everyone else.
    Lying on charges and reports is a easy way to lose your job and go to jail.
    Aesop, classes I took 30 some odd years ago explained in great detail how an officer sued in Federal court (Federal officers excepted) could and have lost everything they had and all the income they would make for the rest of their lives; they did not give statistics or names, sounded like more than two. As for the other, how many garden variety murderers are executed? Tex Watson, Charles Manson? Probation has been given for murder.
    As for being held to a higher standard, is anyone higher in any government position held to a higher standard? Lots of power, no accountability, Secretary of State, Attorney General in the Clinton and Obama administrations come to mind.

  19. What frustrates me is this:
    I am a truck driver, drive a big rig over the road. I used to repair and maintain scales, including the truck scales CHP uses.
    I have more than once been lectured on not knowing the law by an officer who himself doesn’t know the law. I’ve been ticketed for being overweight in my scale truck, for which I had a certified weight ticket showing that I was legal, and their scale was wrong.
    Every time I’ve been ticketed as a driver, or been just pulled over, I have to be on defense. It shouldn’t be this way. Being told “You should know the laws, it’s part of your job” is real charming coming from a guy who has pulled you over in a state that your license isn’t from, and who probably himself doesn’t know every single traffic law in his own state, much less the entirety of the country.
    So what’s to be done? If cops can get away with not knowing every single thing about their job (as, indeed, almost every other professional must) then the system is totally broken. Accountability must exist, and I think it has to star with stripping qualified immunity away from them, and raising training standards to at least that of E.M.T’s. Ethics and responsibility have got to get more focus.
    Sorry to ramble like this but it’s barely the start of my day and I’m just now getting caffeine in my system