The cost of resolving police-misconduct cases surged for big U.S. cities even before the current wave of scrutiny faced by law-enforcement over tactics, reports the Wall Street Journal. The 10 cities with the largest police departments paid out $248.7 million last year in settlements and court judgments for police misconduct, up 48 percent from $168.3 million in 2010. Those cities in total paid $1.02 billion over those five years in such cases, which include alleged beatings, shootings and wrongful imprisonment. When claims related to car collisions, property damage and other police incidents are included, the total rose to more than $1.4 billion.
On Monday, New York City agreed to pay $5.9 million to the estate of Eric Garner, whose death after a police chokehold last summer prompted wide protests. “The numbers are staggering, and they have huge consequences for taxpayers,” says Kami Chavis Simmons, a former assistant U.S. attorney who directs a criminal-justice program at Wake Forest University School of Law. “Municipalities should take a hard look at the culture of police organizations and any structural reforms that might help alleviate the possibility of some of these huge civil suits.” William Johnson of the National Association of Police Organizations, which represents 240,000 officers, says settlements don’t all prove problematic policing. “You could have Mother Teresa running a police department and you're still going to have lawyers out there saying she's not to be trusted and we're going to sue,” he says.