Saturday, April 15, 2017
The Cost of the Big Cop Out
Attorney General Jeff Sessions may be slowly terminating DOJ monitoring of miscreant police departments, and lots of cops may be cheering, but in the longer term the spiraling costs of settlements for police misconduct – tanking cities everywhere – may merely escalate unabated. It would seem far less expensive to force police departments with unacceptable records of bad community relations – and the resulting wrongful arrests, excessive force, mistaken door-breakdowns and wrongful shootings – to embrace new practices that avoid the costs in the first place. It is so much easier for police chiefs and sheriffs to blame outsiders for tough decisions to change police practices than to attempt to lead effectively while clamping down on their officers directly.
The checks and balances on police misconduct should not be expensive settlements and payouts, after the fact, from litigation demanding justice for wrongful acts that should never have occurred in the first place. With CCTV and ubiquitous smart phone video recordings, with or without police bodycams, the ability to document police misconduct with irrefutable evidence makes Sessions removal of such formal oversight a very costly mistake for the communities being supervised. Beat cops may want more freedom to “do what has to be done” without scrutiny, but I suspect the communities they serve would be much better off with more cops and not more expensive settlements.
These escalating costs plague my local enforcement officers. Even forgetting about the Los Angeles Police Department, according to the April 9th Los Angeles, Times, our local LA County Sheriff – responsible for unincorporated county areas as well as covering cities that subcontract law enforcement to this body – has watched these settlements rise from $5.6 to $51 million per annum over the past five years. Those subcontracting cities covered $12.7 million of that last year ($19.4 was picked up by insurance, but insurance companies are raising rates very fast… or simply pulling out of offering that kind of coverage in the first place).
Chicago is one of the cities under federal scrutiny, a factor seemingly mandated by that city’s unprecedented rise in murder rates and police shootings. Local leaders might have hoped that federal oversight might have reduced the accelerating costs of litigation against the city for police misconduct, from a city with a truly horrible relationship with its inner city community. But that oversight is likely to vaporize, and asking CPD to reform itself from the inside may just prove to be an impossible mandate… one that has failed for years. Police misconduct costs this cash-strapped city a fortune.
According to BetterGov.org (1/31/16), “It’s well known that alleged misconduct by Chicago police costs city taxpayers dearly… A new Better Government Association analysis shows just how dearly: $106 million in 2014 and 2015 alone, covering misconduct-related settlements, judgments, legal fees and other costs.
“All told, Chicago’s municipal government – under Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his predecessor, former Mayor Richard M. Daley – spent nearly $642 million on alleged police misconduct over more than a decade, from 2004 through 2015, according to interviews and city records.
“In 2015, nearly $41 million was spent, including roughly $28 million on damages, $10 million on outside legal expenses and $3 million on other costs, according to data obtained from city government’s Law Department.”
An ABC report back on November 17, 2014 – and these costs have only gone up from there – shows that this litigation cost increase is now an American epidemic: “In Philadelphia, more than $40 million in police misconduct settlements have been paid out in the last five years. New York City paid out $428 million in the same period, according to data obtained by , an organization that advocates for open, transparent government records… A Baltimore Sun investigation found the city had paid $11.5 million in the last four years. In Los Angeles, the amount totaled $54 million for claims just in 2011.”
With less federal oversight, we can expect confusion to reign supreme. Local cops, feeling empowered, as if the feds have sanctioned their past, over-aggressive policing, are already talking about going back to the old world of down and dirty, “doing what it takes,” to reduce crime. Even for those police forces that do not require police bodycams, these overly-delighted local cops seem to forget about all those unpredictable smart phone cameras that just might be recording every step they take. So now, we have to rely on local leadership – trying to earn the trust and respect of the officers they lead – to clamp down on those same officers to avoid the liability that is searing local tax coffers. Good luck.
I’m Peter Dekom, and it is exceptionally difficult to redirect decades of practices and momentum of too many local police departments without extrinsic pressure.