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An urgent and definitive examination of how the legal system prevents accountability for police misconduct, from one of the country's leading scholars on policing.

Glossary from Shielded


Below is a glossary of some terms I have used in Shielded. Some will be familiar, others are more technical. All will help you gain a deeper understanding of the stories, laws, and legal rulings highlighted in the book.


Section 1983

The statute, formally 42 U.S.C. §1983, that allows people to sue local governments and government officers for violating the Constitution and to seek damages or injunctive relief. State officials can also be sued under Section 1983, but states themselves cannot; nor can federal officers and the federal government. In Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents (1971), the Supreme Court ruled that federal agents can be sued directly under the Constitution, but the Supreme Court has greatly restricted that right in recent years.


An injunction is a court order commanding a party—usually a defendant—to do something or stop doing something. An injunction can be narrow (to stop strip-searching people arrested for minor crimes) or broad (to develop new policies, trainings, and supervision aimed at reducing excessive force by officers).

Qualified immunity

A legal defense for police officers and other government officials from damages liability, even if they have violated the Constitution, so long as they have not violated what the Supreme Court calls "clearly established law." There is no qualified immunity for local governments and no qualified immunity for claims seeking injunctive relief.

Municipal liability

A municipal liability claim is a legal claim against a local government—typically a county or a city. Municipal liability claims are also sometimes called Monell claims, which is a reference to the Supreme Court case that first ruled that local governments could be used under Section 1983. To establish municipal liability under Section 1983, plaintiffs must show that the local government had a "policy or custom" that "caused" their constitutional rights to be violated.


If a local government indemnifies its officers, it pays any settlements or judgments entered against them. Local governments' obligations to indemnify their officers are unrelated to qualified immunity—instead, they are sometimes required by state law, and sometimes are part of a union agreement or a local government practice or policy.

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