Costly Deaths May Spur a Clamor For Police Liability Insurance

Stephanie Keith for: New York Daily News

When police kill who pays the bill? There are no free commodities in this world. So…when considering the cost of endless brutality and countless police caused death, understand that billions of dollars have been exchanged as a result. Thus far, we’ve failed to ask: Who incurs the monetary cost of legal settlements between police departments and victims after episodes of police misconduct? Answer: members of the community that endure the brutality and tragic fatalities at alarming rates. But why are community members responsible for this debt? Simple – somebody has to pay.

Tax dollars are not only used to supplement the aftermath of poor policing. But in the past eleven years, over a billion taxpayer dollars were used to compensate victims and their families in settlement after settlement across the nation. Taxpayers should not be punished for the deeds of under trained, impulsive, inept police. Unfairly burdening taxpayers with this expense is criminal.

State legislators in most states have passed provisions to their state’s code requiring all drivers to obtain car insurance. These measures are largely uncontroversial and pass without objection. Mandatory car insurance legislation works to protect all drivers and hold irresponsible car owners accountable and ultimately, liable for damages. Doctors and lawyers are justifiably held to high standards with regard to the care and representation provided to their patients and clients. There is no legal obligation for medical or legal professionals to carry personal liability or malpractice insurance. However, the overwhelming majority of medical and legal professionals do. As a result, patients and clients who seek to recover damages for the negligence of their doctor or lawyer are able to file claims directly against the individual responsible for the harm. This system is preferred to the alternative, which would position wronged patients and clients against institutions dependent on public resources rather than the negligent persons acting as agents of these institutions. 

Recently, the family of slain Baltimorean, Freddie Gray, settled out of court with the City of Baltimore for $6.4 million in his wrongful death case. Before that, the New York Police Department settled for $5.9 million with the family of Eric Garner, who was choked to death for accusations of selling loose cigarettes. Preceding these settlements was one involving the Chicago Police Department and the family of Rekia Boyd. Boyd was killed after a Chicago officer fired into a crowd of people because the glimmer of a cell phone allegedly “resembled a gun.” Boyd’s family and the Chicago PD settled in the amount of $4.5 million. In efforts to remain brief, I will concede that itemizing all of the settlements resulting from police misconduct can and will fill thousands of pages.

So how can the U.S. terminate this endless stream of taxpayers dolling out billions of dollars to compensate families for police misconduct? Simple: Require all police and sheriff deputies to be covered under liability insurance. Just like doctors, lawyers, and virtually every person operating a motor vehicle. Adopting this policy would transfer the expensive burden from taxpayers to the rightful party – the officers and fraternal orders of police. Practically speaking, the threat of premiums increasing will surely motivate officers to use better judgment. As it stands now, not only are officers largely not held accountable in the U.S. system of [in]justice, but they also have no financial worries to consider because the city pays for their wrongdoings.