Settlements in police misconduct cases have cost the city of Pittsburgh about $300,000 in the past 13 months, and another settlement for $150,000 is pending — an uptick in payouts that has some officials and lawyers urging a review of police department procedures, especially those pertaining to officers' off-duty activities, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports. The city settled one federal misconduct lawsuit in 2008 and one in 2009.
Last year, however, the city settled four misconduct suits, two of them involving officers who were off-duty or moonlighting when the incidents occurred. So far this year, City Council has taken up two more settlements, both involving off-duty officers. Because the financially strapped city is self-insured, payouts come from the $450 million operating budget. “My hope is that the city takes more control over officers' behavior, when they are on the clock and off the clock,” said lawyer Gerald O'Brien, who is seeking a $150,000 settlement for a dump-truck driver who charges that an officer in uniform but off duty and driving a personal vehicle — passed him and cut him off on a downtown street and then assaulted him in 2008. David Rudovsky of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and author of “Police Misconduct: Law and Litigation” said an increase in suits or complaints signals the need for a policy review. “I would think any responsible public official would look at that and say maybe there's a problem,” he said, noting it would make no sense for the city to shell out money in settlements and “not do anything internally.”