Detroit has paid almost $45 million over three years in police misconduct lawsuits, with more than half that amount going to pay cases involving officers with histories of past lawsuits, says a City Council analysis reported by the Detroit Free Press. It is a costly jump since the last time police lawsuits were examined. A 2000 study found that the bill for the previous three years was $32 million. Officials warned then that the trend endangered the city’s fiscal health.
The new report comes as the city struggles with a $300-million budget crisis that’s forced hundreds of municipal layoffs. Detroit police are under a federal consent degree mandating sweeping changes in the way the department operates. The agreement came in 2003 after a U.S. Justice Department investigation spurred partly by Free Press reports detailing the high rate of civilians fatally shot by officers and constitutionally questionable practices of dragnet arrests and holding relatives to force suspects to surrender. The lawsuit payout “numbers are staggering,” said Councilwoman Sheila Cockrel. “Why in God’s name don’t we have an early warning system — we have been asking for one for years?”