It seems someone made a mistake in investigating that fatal accident on Pear Street earlier this month.
One week after a mother and three children died in the wreck, the investigation took a bizarre and macabre twist when another body was discovered in a water-filled ditch. It turns out it was a 26-year-old man — the father of two of the crash victims — and he is now considered a fifth fatality in this tragic event.
What do you say to this? Look more closely in the ditch next time?
There are no easy answers. We hope that more will be learned on what transpired and if anything could have been done differently. Certainly, the families deserve this.
But there is a bigger issue to consider amid the ongoing national debate over policing.
It is true that everyone makes mistakes. It’s equally true that those mistakes are magnified when they happen in the context of police work. The stakes are much higher.
So it’s appropriate to demand accountability and professionalism from our police officers, but at what cost? This gets to a core issue in the debate raging in Congress over whether the end “qualified immunity” for law enforcement officers who are accused of violating someone’s constitutional rights.
The Supreme Court established this legal doctrine in 1967 to protect state and local officials, including police, from personal liability in civil lawsuits related to their on-the-job duties. The U.S. House voted to repeal qualified immunity in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, but that provision is emerging as a sticking point in the Senate.
It’s not as simple of an issue as those who chant “police reform” would lead you to believe, nor is questioning the repeal of qualified immunity the same thing as absolving Derek Chauvin or endorsing police misconduct.
Remember that the concept is built around shielding officers who make split-second decisions while acting in good faith. Chauvin’s knee was on George Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, so a claim of split-second decision-making rings hollow. The city of Minneapolis seems to acknowledge this in a $27 million civil settlement with the Floyd family.
The Chauvin case needs to be seen as an inflection point to better policing and better race relations. But in “reforming” police, it will be necessary to do so in a way that doesn’t drive away the kinds of officers that these communities badly need: those trained, compassionate and dedicated public servants who went into law enforcement for all the right reasons.
If they decide to abandon the profession or not to go into it altogether, because of intense public backlash or fear of legal harassment, those communities that most need their help will not be better off.