How Much Do Taxpayers Pay For Police Misconduct?
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.
Here are some more figures from the article:
$40 million (584 of 1,223 lawsuits since January 2009)
New York City:
$428+ million (since 2009)
$5.7 million (Plus $5.8 million in legal fees)
$500 million (over past decade); $84.6 (last year alone)
$54 million (includes negligence and other claims)
$74 million to settle 417 lawsuits since 1990.
$13 million (over last 10 years)
$6+ million (since 2011)
$21 million (since 2003)
Note: These figures refer to municipal police departments; costs for county sheriff departments would be in addition to these amounts.
“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.”
And that's a crying shame... but it is the reality. We must do better. So, presuming that we do in fact want to reduce (even end) brutality and
excessive force by law enforcement -- and I sure do, and I know many others do as well -- what can we do? What works? The article offers a few
- Higher standards for LEO conduct
- Better training for LEOs
- Dash/body cams for LEOs
- Officers pay legal fees/settlement costs
- Privatization of Prisons (the preferred choice of the author of the article)
- Federal oversight (takeover) of local policing (Obama and BLM and other's preferred choice)
Of those, I wholeheartedly support the first three; and I'm willing to discuss the fourth, with qualifications; but I completely reject the last two.
The first suggestion would cost virtually nothing; but the rot starts at the top, and if the head honchos wanted to uphold higher standards they
would and we wouldn't have the problems to begin with. The second -- better training -- would also require increased costs, but could possibly pay
for itself over the long run; as would the third suggestion, with statistical evidence that it greatly reduces financial costs and, naturally, the
attendant complaints and lawsuits as well:
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.
Probably because people tend to act better when they know others are (or may) be watching. So BOTH cops and civilians act better. Win-win for
everyone, right? (With appropriate guidelines and restrictions of course, such as
developed by the ACLU with law enforcement
input). Obviously, these cameras (and storage of the video) also cost money... but these costs would presumably be offset by the reduction in
Likewise, costs for improved training for law enforcement agents would also be offset by fewer complaints/lawsuits and therefore decreased settlement
There is always the option of defunding and disbanding city police departments; which would leave law enforcement primarily in the hands of the county
sheriff. I'm not sure how cost effective that would be though; taxpayers/cities would still have to pay for the increased costs to the sheriff's
department. On the plus side, sheriffs are elected officials, so this gives the people a voice via their vote. But that only matters if the voters
make it matter. That sure didn't happen in L.A. County.
Of course, I suppose another option is to defund and disband ALL law enforcement agencies... but that ain't going to happen -- and rightfully so. I
would, however, like to see a whole slew of laws -- victimless crimes -- be removed from the books. Ending the policing-for-profit would go a long
way towards letting people be who aren't hurting anyone, keeping our LEOs fighting real crimes that do hurt others, and save us all a boatload of
The problem is real. It hurts all of us directly or indirectly, one way or another, to one extent or another. And it is being exploited and extorted
by many for their own personal gain -- at OUR expense. But there are many responsible and reasonable folks out there, including law enforcement
officials (active and retired) who are (and have been) pointing out the problems and offering practical and reasonable solutions for some time. Their
voices have been drowned out by the unreasonable and inflammatory voices. But only because we allow it.
When we address the real root problems and start making reasonable reforms, we will take all their power away. Here's a start. Where can we agree?
Where can we find and establish a foundation to build from?
And how do we get the ones with the power and authority to make these reforms actually do it?