How Much Do Taxpayers Pay For Police Misconduct?

Police brutality and misconduct lawsuits are a point of growing contention for many involved in the political arena.

Obviously, victims of police abuse deserve to be compensated for their damages. The problem is that it isn’t the police departments or the at-fault officers themselves that are monetarily held accountable in a misconduct lawsuit. It is the hard working taxpayers of a certain geographic area.

In a recent open-source effort launched by MuckRock.com, independent researchers are looking at data on police lawsuit payouts dating back to 2009. Among the types of lawsuits analyzed include wrongful-shooting deaths, excessive force complaints, illegal searches etc.

Early findings show that during the last five years a combined $16.6 million was spent by taxpayers in just four cities alone to settle 122 police-misconduct lawsuits. Those cities are: Indianapolis, Austin, San Jose, and San Francisco.

During that same time, taxpayers of just one city were expropriated for more than twice that. The people of Philadelphia paid $40 million to settle 584 of the 1,223 police-misconduct lawsuits filed against its department since January 2009, the website reported. Philadelphia has 1.5 million residents.

By comparison, taxpayers in the city of New York have had to shell out more than $428,000,000 since 2009 for wrongful arrest and civil rights settlements.

Baltimore, Maryland has spent $5.7 million on settlements and awards, and another $5.8 million in legal fees.

The Chicago Sun-Times says Chicago residents have payed out nearly half a billion dollars in settlements over the past decade, and spent $84.6 million in fees, settlements, and awards last year alone.

Bloomberg News reported that in 2011, Los Angeles paid out $54 million, though that figure includes negligence and other claims. Oakland Police Beat reported that their city has paid out $74 million to settle 417 lawsuits since 1990.

The Denver Post reported that taxpayers in the Mile High City have paid $13 million over the last 10 years.

According to The Dallas Morning News, Dallas taxpayers have spent over $6 million since 2011. Minneapolis Public Radio put it’s city’s payout at $21 million since 2003.

So what can taxpayers do to thwart these costs? That’s a good question.

“In theory, the cost of these lawsuits are supposed to inspire better oversight, better government, and better policing,” says notable author, Washington Post columnist, and police brutality critic Radley Balko. “When taxpayers see their hard-earned money spent to compensate victims of police misconduct, they vote for political leaders who will hold cops more accountable. Or at least that’s the theory. I’m not sure how effective that is. I’ve seen little evidence that people generally vote on these issues, even in municipal elections.”

In a system that disproportionately favors the rich, fighting police in court can be extremely costly, but is it justice to take from taxpayers to pay for the misconduct of police? I don’t think so. It is also not moral.

So where should the money come from to compensate police abuse victims? Obviously it should come from the police themselves. Just like an employee in any other profession would be held accountable for their own personal conduct, police should too.

There are many proactive ways police can reduce legal costs. The most obvious is holding officers to higher standards and giving them proper training to deal with situations and individuals they may not be accustomed to. This includes individuals of mental and developmental disorders, who seem quantitatively more likely to die during a police encounter than those without such disabilities.

Technology also has an important role to play in reigning in misconduct. According to The Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2002, there were over 26,000 official police brutality complaints across the nation.

That’s a rate of 6.6 complaints for every 100 full-time officers. Of those complaints, eight percent resulted in disciplinary action. That means that only about one in every 200 police officers accused of excessive force were actually punished.

After the city of Rialto, California required its 70 police officers to wear portable video cameras on the job however, police brutality statistics fell by 60 percent in the city, according to a controlled study recorded by the department. In 2012 alone, complaints against Rialto police officers fell 88 percent.

This has reduced police misconduct settlements for the department dramatically. Other possible ideas for departments would include rolling back spending, launching annual fundraisers, or setting aside separate legal funds to compensate victims. Another alternative is to allow the market to sort out policing.

In the absence of a government law enforcement monopoly, private companies would be clamoring to provide citizens with the lowest cost, highest quality service available. This would reduce police misconduct because firms that employee violent law enforcers will loose market share as customers flee to their cheaper nonviolent competitors.

By no longer designating law enforcement a public good, private companies would have to foot the bill themselves for the abuses of their employees. This means, to avoid these costly pay-outs, firms would undoubtedly demand rigorous ethical and moral training and enforcement.

This may seem like a radical idea to some but a government monopoly, in any arena, reduces quality, increases costs and restricts personal choice. Certainly, having the individual liberty to choose whom provides you with law enforcement services is preferable to a forced government monopoly that demands taxpayer money to not only pay for its abuses, but to function at all.

  • Ed

    The heading on the list of those who are responsible reads “Registered Voters”. Send them the bill.

  • johnny allegro

    private companies can operates without police unions preventing drug testing. these cops are psychos running around on steriods raging and committing crimes in vast numbers. lets face it police have destroyed their own reputations with infantile behavior as schoolyard bullies.

  • Robert Monroe, Jr.

    Police officers should have to carry malpractice insurance. That way, if there’s a wrongful death settlement, the cop’s insurance company pays the money…not the taxpayers. If a cop is a repeat offender, and can no longer afford the increased premiums, they aren’t able to be a police officer. This would be the best way to hit cops who murder in their pocketbooks. Make cops pay…not taxpayers!

  • anarchyst

    If anything, police should be held to a higher standard than that of the public…As it stands now, police can commit crimes with impunity because, in most situations, they investigate themselves…Behavior that would get an ordinary citizen charged, convicted and incarcerated is routinely ignored by “the powers that be” because police are considered to be “above the law” as the “law” is whatever they say it is, the Constitution be damned…
    Ever notice that police unions are “fraternal”? This should tell you something. The “thin-blue-line” is a gang, little different than street gangs–at least when it comes to “covering-up” their questionable and quite often, illegal and criminal behavior.
    In today’s day and age, “officer safety” trumps de-escalation of force. This, in part, is due to the militarization of the police along with training in Israeli police tactics. This becomes a problem, with the “us vs. them” attitude that is fosters, along with the fact that Israel is a very different place, being on a constant “war footing”, its police tactics are very different.
    There are too many instances of police being “given a pass”, even when incontrovertible video and audio evidence is presented. Grand juries, guided by police-friendly prosecutors, quite often refuse to charge those police officers who abuse their authority.
    Police officers, who want to do the right thing, are quite often marginalized and put into harms way, by their own brethren…When a police officer is beating on someone that is already restrained while yelling, “stop resisting” THAT is but one reason police have a “bad name” in many instances…this makes the “good cops” who are standing around, witnessing their “brethren in blue” beating on a restrained suspect, culpable as well…
    Here are changes that can help reduce police-induced violence:
    1. Get rid of police unions. Police unions (fraternities) protect the guilty, and are responsible for the massive whitewashing of questionable police behavior that is presently being committed.
    2. Eliminate both “absolute” and “qualified” immunity for all public officials. This includes, prosecutors and judges, police and firefighters, code enforcement and child protective services officials, and others who deal with the citizenry. The threat of being sued personally would encourage them to behave themselves. Require police officers to be “bonded” by an insurance company, with their own funds. No bond= no job.
    3. Any public funds disbursed to citizens as a result of police misconduct should come out of police pension funds–NOT from the taxpayers.
    4. Regular drug-testing of police officers as well as incident-based drug testing should take place whenever an officer is involved in a violent situation with a citizen–no exceptions.
    5. Testing for steroid use should be a part of the drug testing program. You know damn well, many police officers “bulk up” with the “help” of steroids. Steroids also affect users mentally as well, making them more aggressive. The potential for abuse of citizens increases greatly with steroid use.
    6. Internal affairs should only be used for disagreements between individual officers–NOT for investigations involving citizen abuse. State-level investigations should be mandatory for all suspected abuses involving citizens.
    7. Prosecutors should be charged with malfeasance IF any evidence implicating police officer misconduct is not presented to the grand jury.
    8. A national or state-by-state database of abusive individuals who should NEVER be allowed to perform police work should be established–a “blacklist” of abusive (former) police officers.
    9. Most people are unaware that police have special “rules” that prohibit them from being questioned for 48 hours. This allows them to “get their stories straight” and makes it easier to “cover up” bad police behavior. Police must be subject to the same laws as civilians.
    10. All police should be required to wear bodycams and utilize dashcams that cannot be turned off. Any police officers who causes a dash or body cam to be turned off should be summarily fired–no excuses. Today’s body and dash cams are reliable enough to withstand harsh treatment. Body and dashcam footage should be uploaded to a public channel “on the cloud” for public perusal.
    11. All interrogations must be video and audio recorded. Police should be prohibited from lying or fabricating stories in order to get suspects to confess. False confessions ARE a problem in many departments. Unknown to most people, police can lie with impunity while civilians can be charged with lying to police…fair? I think not…
    12. Any legislation passed that restricts the rights of ordinary citizens, such as firearms magazine capacity limits, types of weapons allowed, or restrictive concealed-carry laws should apply equally to police. No special exemptions to be given to police. Laws must be equally applied.
    13 “Asset forfeiture” is a form of “legalized robbery under color of law” and must be abolished. We must return to Constitutional principles when it comes to “crime fighting”. The so-called “war on drugs” is actually a “war on the citizenry” and has had an extremely corrosive effect on the Constitutional principles that our country is (supposed to be) founded on.
    14. “No-knock” raids must be abolished as they put both police and (especially citizens) in harms way. Even the Nazis “knocked on the door” before gaining entry.
    Police work is not inherently dangerous…there are many other professions that are much more dangerous.
    A little “Andy Taylor” could go a long way in allaying fears that citizens have of police.
    That being said, I have no problem with the few police officers who do their job in a fair, conscientious manner…however, it is time to call to task those police officers who only “protect and serve” themselves.

  • anarchyst

    Part of the problem is the militarization and the Israeli training that today’s American cops receive. We are all Palestinians, now…
    Police officers are the only group that can murder someone by falsely claiming that “they feared for their lives”, have 48 to 72 hours to “get their stories straight”, and have a union lawyer and compliant prosecutor-steered “grand jury” absolve them of responsibility.
    Police demand immediate compliance (Israeli-style)–with two or three cops issuing and yelling out conflicting commands, it is easy to see how a person under police control could lose his life for merely attempting to follow conflicting directions.
    The solutions are to abolish their official “immunity”, get rid of police unions, take any awards for police misconduct out of their pension funds–not from insurance or the taxpayers, require them to purchase an insurance company bond at their own expense–no bond=no job, and establish a database of former cops who should NEVER be allowed to hold another police job. Dash and body cams that cannot be disabled or turned off should be a part of the deal.

  • Shaun Puzio

    What’s the total? Does anyone have any total numbers from across the country? Or even an educated guess? Asking for a friend.