How Much Do Taxpayers Pay For Police Misconduct?

A Growing Financial Burden for Taxpayers.

Police brutality and misconduct lawsuits are a point of growing contention.

Obviously, victims of police abuse deserve to be compensated for their damages. The problem is that it isn’t the police departments or the at-fault officers themselves that are monetarily held accountable in a misconduct lawsuit. It is the hard working taxpayers of a certain geographical area.

In a recent open-source effort launched by, independent researchers are looking at data on police lawsuit payouts dating back to 2009. Among the types of lawsuits analyzed include wrongful-shooting deaths, excessive force complaints, illegal searches, etc.

Findings show that during the last five years a combined $16.6 million was spent by taxpayers in just four cities alone to settle 122 police-misconduct lawsuits. Those cities are: Indianapolis, Austin, San Jose, and San Francisco.

During that same time, taxpayers of just one city were expropriated for more than twice that. The people of Philadelphia paid $40 million to settle 584 of the 1,223 police-misconduct lawsuits filed against its department since January 2009, the website reported.

“The report stemmed from requests the website sent to the 20 largest U.S. cities for information on police-lawsuit settlements,” MuckRock reporter Todd Feathers said.

By comparison, taxpayers in the the city of New York have had to shell out more than $428 million since 2009 for wrongful arrest and civil rights settlements.

Baltimore, Maryland has spent $5.7 million on settlements and awards, and another $5.8 million in legal fees during that time.

The Chicago Sun-Times says Chicago residents have payed out nearly half a billion dollars in settlements over the past decade, and spent $84.6 million in fees, settlements, and awards last year alone.

Bloomberg News reported that in 2011 Los Angeles paid out $54 million, though that figure includes negligence and other claims. Oakland Police Beat reported that their city has paid out $74 million to settle 417 lawsuits since 1990.

The Denver Post reported that taxpayers in the Mile High City have paid $13 million over the last 10 years.

According to The Dallas Morning News, Dallas taxpayers have spent over $6 million since 2011. Minneapolis Public Radio put it’s city’s payout at $21 million since 2003.

So, What Can Taxpayers Do To Thwart These Costs? That’s a Good Question.

“In theory, the cost of these lawsuits are supposed to inspire better oversight, better government, and better policing,” says notable author, Washington Post columnist, and police brutality critic Radley Balko. “When taxpayers see their hard-earned money spent to compensate victims of police misconduct, they vote for political leaders who will hold cops more accountable. Or at least that’s the theory. I’m not sure how effective that is. I’ve seen little evidence that people generally vote on these issues, even in municipal elections.”

In a system that disproportionately favors the rich, fighting police in court can be extremely costly, but is it justice to take from taxpayers to pay for the misconduct of police? I don’t think so. It is also not moral.

So where should the money come from to compensate police abuse victims? Obviously it should come from the police themselves. Just like an employee in any other profession would be held accountable for their own personal conduct, police should too.

There are many proactive ways police can reduce legal costs. The most obvious is holding officers to higher standards and giving them proper training to deal with situations and individuals they may not be accustomed to. This includes individuals of mental and developmental disorders, who seem quantitatively more likely to die during a police encounter than those without such disabilities.

Technology Also Has an Important Role to Play in Reigning in Misconduct.

According to The Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2002, there were over 26,000 official police brutality complaints across the nation.

That’s a rate of 6.6 complaints for every 100 full-time officers. Of those complaints, eight percent resulted in disciplinary action. That means that only about one in every 200 police officers accused of excessive force were actually punished.

After the city of Rialto, California required its 70 police officers to wear portable video cameras on the job however, police brutality statistics fell by 60 percent in the city, according to a controlled study recorded by the department. In 2012 alone, complaints against Rialto police officers fell 88 percent.

This has reduced police misconduct settlements for the department dramatically.

Other possible ideas for departments would include rolling back spending, launching annual fundraisers, or setting aside separate legal funds to compensate victims.

Another Alternative is to Allow the Market to Sort Out Policing.

In the absence of a government law enforcement monopoly, private companies would be clamoring to provide citizens with the lowest cost, highest quality service available. This would reduce police misconduct because firms that employ violent law enforcers would loose market share as customers flee to their cheaper nonviolent competitors.

By no longer designating law enforcement a public good, private firms would have to foot the bill themselves for the abuses of their employees. This means, to avoid these costly pay-outs, firms would undoubtedly demand rigorous ethical and moral training and enforcement.

This may seem like a radical idea to some but a government monopoly, in any arena, serves only to reduce quality, increase cost and restrict personal choice. Certainly, having the individual liberty to choose whom provides you with law enforcement services is preferable to a forced government monopoly that demands taxpayer money to not only pay for its abuses, but to function at all.


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Asa J

works primarily as an independent advertising consultant employing grass roots strategies to raise awareness about businesses in their local communities. He has an Associates of Arts Degree and is currently pursuing a Bachelors of Communications/Advertising Degree at Appalachian State University. He is Founder of Police State Daily. His work has been referenced in places like The Washington Post and Esquire Magazine.
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  • JC

    There will always be someone who wants to file a complaint or sue the PD. It’s like that in any profession. Look at medical lawsuits. Because of those lawsuits the cost of healthcare is going up.

    Copblockers have tried to defend the actions of DUI. That costs taxpayers 223.5 billion dollars per year. If you break that down it comes to $746 per person.

    The PD are out there trying to catch these drivers and copblockers complain. That is pretty pathetic.

    This is just what DUI costs American tax payers.

  • Jack Stripper

    Lawsuits, healthcare? No, look into government interference and the pharmaceutical racket. That’s where the price jack came from. Its all pills and insurance. The lawsuits came after the price was high enough that failure wasn’t an option.

  • martymarsh

    Someone is always pointing the finger aren’t they. Did you see the story out of New Jersey, where some drunk Linden cops went the wrong way on a Staten Island highway, the cop that was driving has a pretty interesting history. or the starledger.

  • t

    What does that have to do with his profession? Oh….nothing.

  • t

    Blako is listed as a source. Yeah….if that’s your expert….your done

  • Common Sense

    I’ve always asked the general copblocker how much they pay for their public safety (taxes, millage) and they’ve yet to give me an answer.

    I always believed it’s because they don’t pay taxes or own property.

  • Common Sense

    Yea, he’s whored himself out.

  • Common Sense

    Read “Bitter Pill” pretty good book

  • martymarsh

    It was more about, all of this is one sided, and that is both sides. The only cops that step up and say another cop is wrong, are either harassed out or retired, and there are not many. Now the other side I take with a grain of salt. It is easy to see the corruption in any question and answer session. Cops don’t answer questions, they ask them.
    I almost forgot, look up the Linden cop and you can come back and tell me it has nothing to do with his job.

  • whoopsydoodoo

    In those other professions that involve life and death situations, such as medicine, practitioners carry malpractice insurance. If they lose too many lawsuits, they cannot get insurance and, therefore, cannot practice medicine. Perhaps police should be required to participate in a similar misconduct insurance system in order to keep them accountable to the people they purportedly serve

  • whoopsydoodoo

    Killing a guy while he watered his lawn cost Long Beach $6.5 million:

  • keepitreal

    Just wait until that Winter Park coalition of farm animal owners gets ahold of you. Them and PETA are currently processing some DNA samples, and we all know what that’s going to show, don’t we, slaps……Then it’s hello to the old poorhouse for slaps.

  • keepitreal

    You’re wasting your time arguing with that douchebag.

  • martymarsh

    There is no argument, for it to be an argument their facts would have to be valid, and I don’t see that. Of course anyone that question police corruption must be a convict, so I am sitting here in my cell with nothing but time.

  • JC

    No, it isn’t. People want to sue because it is easier to sue than actually work to achieve something. Hospital equipment is very expensive because there is liability in it. The costs continue to climb.

  • JC

    You are missing the whole point. I posted about drunk driving. Some thing that copblockers seem to defend when “it wasn’t hurting anyone” well it does.

  • whoopsydoodoo

    All right, then let’s address your point.

    The first site you reference talks about the cost of binge drinking, not DWI.

    The second site you reference talks about the cost of “alcohol-related” crashes. Again, not exclusive to DWI. The site also misquotes the original Blincoe report. From the original report: “Each year, alcohol-related crashes in the United States cost about $51 billion”. Notice how it fails to specify who pays that cost or where that money is going.

    Very sloppy work, JC

  • Common Sense

    Actully it cost them nothing, the city appealed the award. They will probably settle for less verse dragging it out for a few more years.

    ….gotta love attorneys.

  • Common Sense

    And has that rid the nation of bad doctors? No, they just push the cost of their insurance on to the patient.

    Police work will be for the true 1% since they can afford the high premiums and can still deliver the beat downs without hesitation.

  • whoopsydoodoo

    The concept of malpractice insurance wasn’t intended specifically to rid the nation of bad doctors (although it has probably helped get rid of a few); it’s purpose is to make medical professionals accountable for their actions. If doctors pass the cost of higher insurance premiums onto their patients, then a doctor with lower premiums and fewer disgruntled patients will be able to offer the best pricing and service to the consumer – a win-win for everyone.

    In a system of private protection services, an actual “good cop” would be placed
    in high demand. He would probably earn more money and respect in the process

  • Yankeefan

    That’s why one reads the data and where it originally came from. I judge that over the name of a person. If I took that approach you just did, why should I ever believe any PD when even the FBI has admitted local PD’s do not keep accurate numbers when it comes to a few aspects of police work.

  • Common Sense

    Right, like food – McDonalds vs Ruth’s Chris – they’re both food.

    And after all, privatization works well, like Haliburton or maybe Blackwater.



  • ymygody

    this problem would resolve itself very quickly if people simply killed any officer that violated anybody’s rights knowingly or unknowingly. in truth, they all deserve to die in the most painful way possible.

  • JC

    The first article: “In 2006, binge drinking, underage drinking and drinking by pregnant women cost U.S. taxpayers $223.5 billion, the CDC study showed. That breaks down to $746 per taxpayer, the researchers said, or about $1.90 for each alcoholic drink consumed that year”.

    As you can clearly see, it isn’t just about binge drinking.

    The second article: “Beyond lost lives and painful injuries, alcohol-related crashes in the United States cost federal and local governments and taxpayers approximately $51 billion each year”. (Blincoe et al., 2002)

    Very sloppy work idiot.

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  • Shawn

    Everyone pays taxes. Even renters at one removed. Cerainly the property owners include them in the rent.

    Taxes are more complicated than that, especially in placed like NYC. Sales tax, sometimes even local income tax, fees, on and on.

  • vegas jack

    Common sense is something that continually eludes you.

  • whoopsydoodoo

    Haliburton and Blackwater are government contractors. They are quasi-government agencies. In the present context, privatization cannot be fairly judged, as the octopus of the State has its tentacles in just about every area of the economy.

    The statists use the same arguments to demonize the concept of ”deregulation”, which, in a modern context, means removing economic restraints from the corporate partners of the State

  • RAD

    WTF Where do “copblockers” defend dui? Give us a link where copblockers defended dui. I seriously doubt it. There was an incident where Pete talked someone out of driving drunk because he knows it’s not cool to drink and drive. Where are you getting your information?

  • RAD

    Where do you see copblock defending dui? Show us a link to what you’re talking about.

  • JC

    Check out Amanda Billyrock. She is a activist who was busted from drinking and driving in January 2013. Copblock, freekeene, and other’s came running to her side claiming she didn’t hurt anyone ect.. There have been a number of articles in which the copblocker was pulled over and arrested for DUI but constantly said I caused no victims. Just wait, there will be more.

  • Common Sense

    .17% – so less than 2% of what?

  • t

    I was curious about something earlier today.
    I looked up how things are going in Colorado after pot legalization. Specifically about property crimes. I chose Denver specifically as its a large city.

    The funny thing was the math.
    Without having the numbers in front of me……it was something like:
    Denver: murders: 6.7 %. Rapes: 12.1 %. Property crimes: 16.5 %
    US ave: murders: 5.8%. Rapes: 10.2. Property crimes: 13.4.
    The numbers were something like that. Which is neither good nor bad too me.
    But the funny thing about it was the author then sold it as how Denver is now such a safe city because there numbers were lower than the U.S. ace. umm….interresting math.

    Crime stats are an interresting thing. IBR is a far different animal than UCR was / is. It forces crimes into some really strange categories that aren’t really a true representation.
    But that’s only a small part. We…as in the police nationwide….battle against public apathy and even more “I didn’t want to bother you”. It is an extremely frequent thing that we deal with someone to then be told that there has been a rash of breakins or something else…..but people didn’t call to tell us because they didn’t care or want to bother us. Now….in the stats that looks like either the police are doing a great job or crime is just way down. so are the stats accurate?

    Ya always gotta keep that in mind. But if Balko is selling it….its tainted.

  • t

    “A good cop”
    Before I go on……what does that mean to you?

  • whoopsydoodoo

    If we’re talking about a good cop in the context of a public policing model, he is a cop who recognizes the difference between unwritten law as a source of peace among men and law as a tool that serves to enrich and empower the people who call themselves “the State” and their associates. A good cop refuses to enforce laws where no victim can be identified. He doesn’t cage peaceful people who haven’t harmed another individual.

    And finally, he is willing to stand up to bad cops and do what he can to rid them from professional policing. He makes himself the standard, rather than the exception

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  • Cdb Spender

    How about taking it directly out of their pensions?

  • Shuggah

    You forgot to mention the idea that each individual LEO be required to purchase personal liability insurance as a condition of employment. We require the same thing from motorists and doctors, so why not police?

    If an officer is the source of too many payouts, then his/her insurance premiums will rise, and at some point the especially brutal cops will be denied insurance altogether and thus would have to find another line of work.

    It may be possible through citizens’ initiative to pass such a measure at the local level.

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