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Who pays when police misbehave?
In 2006, Rennie Simmons, a 20-year Chicago Water Department employee — and stroke victim — visited the home of Glenn Evans to issue a notice that water to the property could be cut off, due to lack of payment. Court records indicate that while there, Evans tackled the man to the ground, causing multiple injuries, according to a court complaint. Following the altercation, Evans arrested him — turns out Evans is a lieutenant.
Simmons was arrested and charged with committing battery against Evans and was eventually found not guilty in Cook County Court, during a time in which the judge shared harsh words with Simmons. Evans kept his job, and continues to receive a six-figure salary. He did not contribute to the $99,999 payout given to Simmons after a settlement was reached over a civil complaint regarding the same incident.
In July, two settlements led to the payouts of $7.17 million for victims who alleged torture by former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge.
In these cases, Burge was convicted of trying to cover up the torture, and he served more than four years in prison as a result. Yet the cost of the settlements fell on the shoulders of the government agency, funded through taxpayers.
In February, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) announced a victory when they reached a $6.2 million settlement in a class action lawsuit stemming from the arrest of 700 anti-war protesters in 2003 by Chicago officers. While the NLG did not argue police brutality, they did cite police misconduct, as arrests made were violations of the protesters’ right to peacefully assemble. The crowd was also not ordered to disperse before arrests were made.
In Seattle, an agreement was reached between the police department and Justice Department in July to create a police commission tasked with monitoring police behavior and increasing citizen input following the shooting of a homeless Native American man in 2010. He died from gunshot wounds inflicted by an officer. In that case, investigators deemed the action to be unconstitutional, as excessive force had been used.
These incidents only represent the thousands of cases of police misconduct and brutality carried out in the U.S. each year. According to the CATO Institute’s National Police Misconduct Statistics and Reporting Project (NPMSRP), $347.4 million was spent between April 2009 and June 2010 on settlements and judgements related to misconduct and brutality. That price tag reflects 5,986 separate incidents during that time period, 382 of which resulted in fatalities.
In its annual report, the CATO Institute claims the numbers through 2010 remained consistent, with $346.5 million spent on related judgements, settlements, court costs and attorney fees from January-December 2010. During that time, the organization’s statistics show 4,861 incidents reported throughout the year, involving more than 6,600 law enforcement officials and 6,826 victims.
Yet with consistently high numbers and settlements reaching in the millions, it seems there has been no other solution presented other than to deal with the issue at hand, reach into the settlement funds and move on. The numbers show the tactic isn’t necessarily deterring the actions, and the cost continues to mount for taxpayers.
What’s the solution?
When a law enforcement official steps out of his or her bounds and harms an individual without due cause, the initial action by an officer’s department is to launch an internal investigation. During that time period, the officer is typically put on administrative leave, a time in which they continue to receive salary payments.
If a settlement is reached, the law enforcement department is tasked with turning over the payment — the financial threat to the officer in question is nothing more than a pink slip, or in some cases, the loss of employment. The financial burden of such settlements and leaves lies on the shoulders of the very people who are attempting to hold the officials accountable for their harmful actions.
Creating a system within the law enforcement departments that would somehow tie officers’ wages to settlements relating to their behavior could perhaps deter officers from acting out, knowing that the burden would be seen within their bank account, rather than a settlement fund they have no control over.