Millions of dollars in taxpayer relief awarded to the families of those killed by police over the past decade have done little to solve the problem of police while impoverishing the communities that committed the crime, argues a report published by Texas Southern University. (TSU).
Instead, the best way to make police officers accountable is to put the burden on police officers themselves through their insurance plans, writes Dashawn Ray, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
“Paying civilians for police misconduct creates problems for local governments and relieves police of responsibility,” Ray wrote in a paper written at the Center for Justice Research, which is located in TSU’s Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs.
Ray noted the disparity between the major communities that have paid for high-profile police shootings in recent decades and efforts to hold officers accountable for their actions.
For example, the death of 2014, Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson Mo., paid $ 1.5 million to the Brown family. But the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the former police chief.
In fact, Ray said, “Wilson resigned (from the Army) shortly after the grand jury verdict and received a $500,000 settlement.”
“How is murder justified in a criminal court and wrongful death in a civil court?” Ray asked.
“Did what seemed to be a very serious incident not be found in a police officer’s file? How does a police officer who is involved in a wrongful death get another job in law enforcement?”
“Courts that break the law remove many police officers, grant them immunity in most cases, exempt them from financial penalties, and often allow them to resign, receive pensions, and find new law enforcement jobs.”
Ray noted that the cost to taxpayers in other civic centers in the last decade, including $50 million paid by the city of Baltimore, and $650 million paid by the city of Chicago in the last 20 years.
“This fee does not include attorney’s fees to defend the officers involved, the police department, and the city in court,” Ray said.
But he also said that the payment did not stop the high-energy killings.
“Someone is killed by the police about every eight hours in the United States,” he wrote. While crime has declined over the past 20 years, police killings have increased by 25 percent over the same period.”
Ray said other anti-behavior efforts, such as giving police officers body cameras, have had little effect. But, he added that “they fail to achieve their goals because they do not overcome the lack of responsibility.”
Most seniors have their own insurance and the department’s personal injury insurance, but the plans often don’t cover malpractice, the paper said.
Reforming the way people pay for police insurance plans to be at fault is not a new issue, Ray said.
“Instead, we use it for clinical purposes on the part of patients and doctors,” he wrote. “In the past, if a patient had a pre-existing condition, the premiums were higher than those without pre-existing conditions. For doctors and hospitals, those who are more interested in litigation will see an increase in their insurance premiums.
“Police departments can work the same way.”
The reform will also allow insurance companies to set prices based on the number of fault sites and the number of cases registered in the site.
They “can choose to keep the department, increase the rate, or reduce it,” Ray wrote. “Then, cities can decide how to cut back on their police departments based on these funds.”
Ray argued that his proposal would solve the city’s budget problems.
“By rescheduling police and civilian salaries from taxpayer dollars to police insurance, the money used to pay civilian and attorney fees can be spent on education, services, and infrastructure,” he said.
“And job creation will disproportionately reduce crime in the community.”
In addition, he added, putting a price on responding “reduces police killings and the use of force by police.”
Rashawn Ray, Ph.D., is a member of the Center for Justice Research’s National Police Reform Advisory Group, based at TSU. He is also a David M. Rubenstein Fellow at The Brookings Institution, and Professor of Sociology and Executive Director of the Lab for Applied Social Science Research (LASSR) at the University of Maryland, College Park. His policy paper can be download here.