NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Cost of Police Misconduct Soars in Big U.S. Cities

July 20, 2015

The cost of resolving police-misconduct cases has surged for big U.S. cities in recent years. The 10 cities with the largest police departments paid out $248.7 million last year in settlements and court judgments in police-misconduct cases, up 48 percent from $168.3 million in 2010. 

Collectively these cities paid out $1.02 billion between 2010 and 2015. Data shows that cases have gotten more expensive to resolve. For example, Philadelphia police have faced criticism for numerous shootings in recent years. Last year, the city settled 10 shooting cases for an average of $536,500 each.

Although data does not support it, surveys suggest that the prevalence of video may have an effect on how quickly cities are willing to settle.  The article cites two possible incidents of police misconduct that were settled for a total of $5.65 million even before lawsuits were filed.

However, city officials and others say the large payouts stem not just from new cases, but from efforts to resolve decades-old police scandals. Cities are cutting more checks to people who were wrongfully imprisoned years ago because of police misconduct.

Some cities are self-insured, meaning settlement funds come from city funds. Others have insurance that kicks in at a certain payment level in each case, however, the cost of premiums can increase after incidents occur, much like car insurance.  Either way, taxpayers foot the bill one way or another.

Source: Zusha Elinson and Dan Frosch, "Cost of Police-Misconduct Soars in Big U.S. Cities," Wall Street Journal, July 15, 2015.


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