A Possible Cure for Police Brutality: Liability Insurance
In Toronto, citizens who claim police unlawfully detained them during the G20 summit in 2010 have launched a class action lawsuit seeking $75 million in damages. Whether you agree with their claim or not, as citizens, we’re forced to play an inherently disgusting game of, “Yeah, but…” where we concede that people deserve recompense. But such high figures represent our tax dollars. The lesson is that police overreach doesn’t just result in the widespread deterioration of confidence—it also costs the city big bucks.
Still, from black victims of alleged law enforcement abuse like Sandra Bland in the U.S. to Sammy Yatim in Toronto, and with more than 1,000 bodies a year immortalized in hashtags, most of us have found a story we believe worthy of financial compensation. So the battle for sweeping police reform has begun; a concept that scares the hell out of law enforcement officials.
And it should.
Regardless of what industry you currently work in, when you hear the term “reform” you automatically think “cuts” and not the precise, surgical kind, but the wild hacking kind. Police unions and law enforcement officials have made the word a pejorative, especially for those raised in the exact culture that today’s young activists plan to obstruct at every turn.
So maybe it’s time for police to carry liability insurance the same way other professionals do. A recent report detailed how much American taxpayer money was being rewarded to excessive force victims and the results are horrific. Philadelphia has paid over $40 million since 2009. New York City has paid out more than $428,000,000 in that same time period. And Chicago has shelled out more than half a billion dollars over the last decade.
Groups like the Committee for Professional Policing (CFPP) argue that if officers have liability premiums increased for bad policing, they can eventually become uninsurable like terrible drivers, which is supposed to force them off the streets. Good officers, who wouldn’t want to see their premiums rise, would be more likely to keep their fellow officers in check. The infamous Jon Burge of the Chicago PD tortured African-American men during interrogations by using stun guns, hair dryers and cattle prods on their genitals. The force had to shell out $5.5 million to 57 of his victims, but if psych evaluations can’t keep out a sadist like this, maybe the coverage will price him out of the system. And by making the city fund the base rates and officers pick up any additional costs, they will avoid running into issues with union contracts.
On the surface, it sounds like an awesome idea, but there are potential problems. Internal Affairs departments may be reluctant to pursue a crooked cop if they know their own premiums could be bumped up by another settlement. And the truth is that the anti-Serpico nature of police forces still reigns supreme.
The idea of liability insurance is worth consideration, but we can’t wholly trust that idea until we fully analyze the prejudice behind excessive force in the first place.
Lincoln Blades is a financial professional and political essayist based in the Toronto area.
Copyright © 2016 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in the Summer 2016 edition of Corporate Risk Canada magazine