Police Terror Costs Taxpayers $1.4 Billion in Settlements During Just the Past 10 Years
By Zusha Elinson and Dan Frosch
The cost of resolving police-misconduct cases has surged for big U.S. cities in recent years, even before the current wave of scrutiny faced by law-enforcement over tactics.
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% from $168.3 million in 2010, according to data gathered by The Wall Street Journal through public-records requests.
Those cities collectively paid out $1.02 billion over those five years in such cases, which include alleged beatings, shootings and wrongful imprisonment. When claims related to car collisions, property damage and other police incidents are included, the total rose to more than $1.4 billion.
On Monday, New York City agreed to a $5.9 million settlement with the estate of Eric Garner, whose death after being put in a police chokehold last summer sparked widespread protests.
City officials and others say the large payouts stem not just from new cases, but from efforts to resolve decades-old police scandals. In 2013 and 2014, for example, Chicago paid more than $60 million in cases where people were wrongfully imprisoned decades ago because of alleged police misconduct.
For some cities, the data show that cases have gotten more expensive to resolve. 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. In 2010, it settled eight for an average of $156,937. A city lawyer attributes the rise to a few large settlements, not a pattern of questionable shootings.
“The numbers are staggering, and they have huge consequences for taxpayers,” says Kami Chavis Simmons, a former assistant U.S. attorney who now directs the criminal-justice program at Wake Forest University School of Law. “Municipalities should take a hard look at the culture of police organizations and any structural reforms that might help alleviate the possibility of some of these huge civil suits.”