When cities settle cases of inappropriate or illegal force by police officers, they can pay a lot. Chicago has paid more than half a billion dollars since 2004, says NPR. Some advocates say all those payouts haven’t had much of an effect on policing practices.
Minneapolis activist Michelle Gross says when cities pay damages, individual police officers often aren’t held accountable, which means they’re not likely to change their behavior. A group called the Committee for Professional Policing is “working to get a measure on the ballot that would require police officers to carry professional liability insurance,” she says.
Some officers carry liability insurance voluntarily. Gross’ group wants to make it a condition of employment in Minneapolis. Their proposal would have the city cover the cost of basic insurance, but any premium increases due to misconduct would be the officer’s responsibility.
Dave Bicking, a member of the ballot campaign, says bad cops would pay more; the worse the track record, the higher the premium. “We have one officer who’s had five significant settlements against him just in a year and a half,” Bicking says. “Someone like that could never, ever buy insurance. They’d have to charge him $60-$70,000 a year. That officer would be gone.”
Police call the plan simplistic. “I always equate police work to, like, basketball. If you’re not getting any fouls, you’re not playing hard enough,” says Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis. He says if cops have to worry about insurance rates, they may become overly cautious.
“Anybody can get in the squad car and drive around and put the blinders on, and not investigate suspicious circumstances,” he says. “If you don’t do that proactive police work, your likelihood of being sued is a lot less.”