Some 128 plaintiffs got nearly $14 million in settlements from the city of Philadelphia last year from civil-rights lawsuits filed against police, reports the Philadelphia Daily News. That marked a huge jump from the $8.3 million paid out for such suits in 2012, and an even bigger increase from the $4.2 million paid five years earlier. Those figures don’t include the millions paid annually to settle lawsuits from police-involved car accidents or labor and employment claims.
For a city that doesn’t have enough money to fund its struggling schools or keep up with its crumbling infrastructure, the increase in lawsuit payouts is troubling. The City Solicitor’s Office often heads into court at a competitive disadvantage, because the Police Department has a questionable track record of disciplining troublesome cops. A Daily News review of dozens of high-dollar settlements paid in recent years shows that most involve officers who flout police policies or have racked up piles of citizen complaints of misconduct. Settling out of court might be less risky and ultimately cheaper than gambling on a case in which a judge or jury outraged by systemic police problems might award the plaintiff a jackpot, watchdogs say. When city lawyers do take a case to court, they usually win, said city lawyer Craig Straw.