June 2, 2020; Poynter
As Poynter pointed out in its blog yesterday, in a time when city revenues are likely to be stretched thin, one good place to save money would be on lawsuits for police-involved shootings and other cases of misconduct. This would require the police to act with more accountability, of course, or that one of several proposals to end “qualified immunity” for police from lawsuits be implemented.
Yesterday, the South Florida Sun Sentinel ran an op-ed on one of these proposals, asserting that such suits might guarantee more immediate accountability. In lieu of a timely, fair criminal justice system, cities ought to revamp liability laws and pass settlement costs for wrongdoing onto police officers, rather than taxpayers. Even before dismissal and conviction, problem officers must pay the price for their crimes.
Ross Marchand, the Vice President of Policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. writes, “A fairer system would reject this qualified immunity and introduce liability for individual police officers, similar to how individual doctors can be held accountable for recklessly disregarding the lives of their patients.” He points out that holding officers criminally accountable has not ended in satisfaction in many cases.
Just how much are we talking about? It is hard to know because of confidentiality agreements, but some enterprising reporters have gone after the data successfully, as Poynter’s Al Tompkins points out:
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WBBM-TV in Chicago found that Chicago taxpayers paid $20.3 million for police-involved lawsuits in just the first eight weeks of 2018. By the end of that year, Chicago paid out $113 million in police lawsuits.
In New York City, the metro government paid $229.8 million in lawsuit claims against the police department. Overall, the City of New York paid out $1 billion in various lawsuit claims in fiscal year 2018.
Governing Magazine’s 2016 survey of the nation’s 20 largest cities on this issue revealed that taxpayers are paying a pretty penny for the lack of police accountability.
Of course, there is also a growing call in some quarters, explained here, to defund the police altogether.—Ruth McCambridge