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On the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, criminal justice experts say some police reforms have been made; more are needed

Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 6:14 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - On the one-year anniversary of the death of George Floyd, calls for police reform have not waned.

Floyd died last Memorial Day as then Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes. Earlier this year, Chauvin was convicted of murder in Floyd’s death.

Ronal Serpas, Ph.D., is a Professor of Practice of Criminology and Justice at Loyola University and former superintendent of the New Orleans and Nashville Police Departments.

“I think we’re seeing a lot of states pass laws that ban the chokehold. Many departments didn’t use it but it’s good to have that law passed. Some states are tweaking the edges of disciplinary practices, meaning producing registries of officers who’ve been terminated, etc.,” said Serpas.

He thinks there should be other reforms.

“Other reforms that are still needed is how do we hire people, how do we train people,” said Serpas.

Dillard University criminologist Ashraf Esmail, Ph.D., thinks there has been a good deal of police reform in the year since Floyd’s death.

“I think from a national level, obviously we’re waiting on the George Floyd [Justice in] Policing Act, I think from the local entities around the country I think a lot of reform has happened. I think more than two-thirds of the states have enacted reform or policies in place in terms of restricting use of force, overhauling the issues of disparity, trying to put in more civilian oversight,” said Esmail.

A federal consent decree forced reforms in the New Orleans Police Department years ago.

Eric Hessler is an attorney for the Police Association of New Orleans, also called PANO.

“Certainly, for all intents and purposes, it’s helped this police department go a long way in regard to gaining the trust of the public. Some say it has harmed a little bit when it comes down to attempting to curb or address violent crime,” said Hessler.

In Louisiana, a bill to limit qualified immunity for police officers in certain cases is halfway through the legislative process at the state capitol.

HB 609 says that qualified immunity does not apply as a defense for claims of wrongful death, physical injury, or personal injury caused by police officers through the unreasonable use of physical force.

Hessler, Serpas, and Esmail were asked if qualified immunity should be eliminated altogether.

“I think if anything it needs to be thought through more carefully because it applies to every government employee who does not knowingly break a law or break a rule,” said Serpas.

“I’m not in favor of immunity,” said Esmail. “You’re protecting the police and you know generally, historically police have not been punished.”

Hessler thinks removal of qualified immunity would hurt police departments.

“It certainly shouldn’t be eliminated, and I think if it is eliminated it’s going to show, it’s going to be shown to be a very, very poor choice in just a matter of a few short years,” said Hessler. “I think it would cause tremendous attrition among police officers; it would essentially kill any kind of recruitment procedures.”

On Capitol Hill, Democrats and Republicans are still negotiating over the proposed George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana was asked if he supports doing away with qualified immunity.

“I do not support ending qualified immunity but there is a way to hold the police department itself liable and by that, you get at the same ends, if you will without potentially bankrupting a police officer from legal fees,” said Cassidy.

Hessler and Serpas say qualified immunity does not mean peace officers can do whatever they want.

“Police officers are held accountable in the federal courts, it happens all the time,” said Hessler.

“Qualified immunity does not protect a police officer who commits a police officers who commits an armed robbery. It doesn’t protect a police officer who kills someone with no justification,” Serpas stated.

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