For The Record

The killing of George Floyd and other high-profile incidents involving police — including, more recently, the pepper-spraying of an Army lieutenant during a traffic stop in Windsor, Virginia — formed a timely backdrop for an April Law Over Lunch CLE called “Policing Post-2020: Recipes for Review and Reform.” Professors Julie McConnell and Jack Preis spoke during the virtual event, sponsored by the Carrico Center for Pro Bono & Public Service.

McConnell has a distinctive perspective on the subject: She’s both a former prosecutor and a former public defender. Today, her primary focus is on children’s defense and juvenile justice. “We’ve got to stop using the carceral system to address our social problems,” she said. “We have refused to fund our social safety net for so long that we’ve been forced to use the criminal justice system in its place, and it has failed miserably.”

While McConnell discussed some progress in “front-end” reforms, Preis addressed how courts evaluate and punish police misconduct after it has occurred. A chief weakness in the system, according to Preis, is the doctrine of qualified immunity. To prevail in a civil suit against a police officer on a constitutional claim, the plaintiff must show not only that the officer violated their rights, but also that the violation was egregious.

A key takeaway from the session was the need for change at the systemic level. “A recurring theme that comes up when we talk about law enforcement reform is bad apples versus systemic issues,” said Tara Casey, director of the Carrico Center. Preis borrowed from colleague and scholar Barry Friedman to address that issue: “There’s always going to be a problem with bad apples,” he said. “But the reality is that the entire orchard is unregulated.”

Both McConnell and Preis pointed to the need for a combination of policy change, legislation, and deterrent regulations to address reforms in a systemic way.