Patrick Colligan, President
If they can do it to us…
This year has certainly been one for the ages. A global pandemic, hurricanes, wildfires, the most divisive presidential election in our history, the murder of George Floyd, an asteroid that might hit be-fore election day and – because we haven’t had quite enough yet – murder hornets. I can hardly wait for November and December!
Needless to say, a few of these issues have had a profound effect on us in New Jersey. Twelve New Jersey officers lost their lives to COVID-19. Nine of them were PBA members. Some 120 officers throughout the country succumbed to the horrible disease, and tens of thousands of our brother and sister officers were profoundly affected. Many will never return to work.
As bad as we thought COVID was, May 25 was a day that changed policing forever. Some changes certainly will be for the better. Some will be downright dangerous, not only for the women and men who choose to do this job, but also for the citizens we’ve sworn to protect and serve.
So let’s fast forward to the federal Justice in Policing Act. In the rush to “do some-thing,” Congress drafted a really bad bill. The group that enjoys absolute immunity wants to take away our qualified immunity. I hope the “qualified” sufficiently describes our immunity. Yes, you are correct. We have to qualify for the immunity from lawsuits filed for damages resulting our mistakes. If you chose to act in a way that shocks the conscience or is so outside the norms of normal police work, you’re on your own. (And frankly, you should be). We make mistakes, no doubt about it. We aren’t Walmart greeters. We are in a dangerous and often ugly business. But many forget about that.
Some members of our New Jersey congressional delegation chose to sign onto that bill. One of them was even a co-sponsor. We’ve enjoyed some very close relationships and friendships with our delegation over the years. I hope I don’t have to tell you we were on the phone immediately after that bill came up. Marc, Rob and I were on some very long calls telling representatives exactly what that would do to our members and the very future of recruiting qualified candidates. A severe recruiting problem already exists.
There was no ambiguity in our conversations whatsoever. Removing qualified immunity was an absolute line in the sand. Of course, they were free to support the bill, but not without consequences.
I guess more than one of these elected officials thought we were bluffing. As they know by now, we weren’t. We have either walked away from our support or backed another congressional candidate. Yes, not without repercussions, but I live by a pretty simple rule in my life: Win, lose or draw, the day I can’t look myself in the mirror, I’ll walk away from this position.
Their unanimous answer of “it’s not passing anyway” was a shallow, feeble excuse. Depending on this election, that bill will probably be back and the “it’s not passing anyway” excuse won’t be such a shallow answer anymore.
So the delegation says, “If they do it to us, they can do it to anybody.” Not so quick folks. Maybe you weren’t listening to us on those calls. It was a line in the sand and unlike some of you, I mean what I say. The difference is, I can still proudly look at myself in a mirror today.