To broaden the reach and relevance of our legislative advocacy efforts, the National Police Accountability Project has produced white papers on issue areas we are focusing on each legislative session. These papers are intended for both policy makers and the public to provide a robust contextualization of both why we think these issue areas are critical in defending against police violence, and how to implement legislation that is effective and impactful. A selection of these papers are available below.
Law Enforcement Bill of Rights Statutes: How State Law Limitations Contribute to Police Harm and Community Distrust
Law enforcement bill of rights (LEOBR) laws provide officers with a robust set of procedural and substantive protections that undermine effective investigations and block meaningful discipline. LEOBR laws also interfere with attempts to hold police officers accountable through civil rights lawsuits and public pressure. Twenty-two states have LEOBR laws on the books. These protections were created by state lawmakers and can be repealed through the state legislative process.
Expanding Pathways to Accountability: State Legislative Options to Remove the Barrier of Qualified Immunity
In federal litigation, the judge-made doctrine of qualified immunity shields officers from liability in lawsuits alleging constitutional violations because courts often require a plaintiff to point to a factually identical prior case.While there are many police accountability mechanisms in need of change, ensuring officers at least face civil liability for misconduct is critical to any reform effort. Lawsuits alone cannot end problematic policing tactics, eliminate racial bias in law enforcement agencies, or bring peace to the grieving families who lost a loved one to police violence. However, they can deter future officer misconduct, empower Black and Brown communities by giving them recourse to vindicate their rights, and ensure victims of police abuse are not forced to bear the cost of their mistreatment.
The prevalence of hate group affiliations in police departments has been well-documented by research organizations and governmental agencies for years. Despite knowledge of this persistent threat growing within their ranks, police departments continue to hire officers without conducting thorough checks for ties to hate groups, fail to create policies that prohibit officers from affiliating with hate groups, and only discipline or terminate officers if their affiliation with a hate group becomes public. Left unchecked, officers affiliated with hate groups—some of which have committed acts of domestic terrorism or pose domestic terrorist threats—and officers who have expressed explicit bias will continue, under the color of law, to harm communities that are already over-policed and underserved: people of color, immigrants, religious minorities, LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities. Allowing individuals who hold these biases to join and remain on police forces threatens public safety, undermines the legitimacy of policing, and further erodes what little trust some communities have in the police and the criminal legal system.
Lifting the Blue Veil of Silence: Legislative Proposals to Improve Transparency in Policing and Build Community Trust
Access to police misconduct records is necessary to protect the public and ensure accountability in a range of contexts. The contents of disciplinary records provide insight into an individual officer’s suitability to serve in law enforcement. Similarly, these records shed light on patterns of police misconduct and help ensure communities can evaluate whether law enforcement agencies are conducting fair investigations into citizen complaints. Unfortunately, confidentiality laws in many states prohibit disclosure of this valuable information.
Where records about police misconduct are kept secret, police violence goes unchecked, accountability is undermined, and reform is stalled. States that block public access to police disciplinary records and civilian complaints should enact legislation to open this essential information to the public.
Officers currently lack guidance about when force is necessary as well as what tactics and maneuvers are appropriate. The Supreme Court’s interpretations of the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution provide the only national standard for police officer use of force. The standard loosely authorizes force that is “reasonable under the totality of circumstances.” Most states have enacted use of force standards but few provide more guidance than the Supreme Court rule and an increasing number of state courts have incorporated the federal framework into state jurisprudence. Some police departments provide more explicit restrictions on when force can be used but these rules provide only piecemeal protection to civilians and are not legally binding.
Absent clear, legally enforceable guideposts, communities, in particular communities of color and people with disabilities, are vulnerable to serious injury and death in situations that should be deescalated. State legislation limiting force will protect members of the public from unwarranted physical harm.