The 20 U.S. cities and counties with the biggest police departments have paid over $2 billion since 2015 for alleged misconduct and civil rights violations, finds a Wall Street Journal analysis. The payments have settled allegations of excessive force, wrongful detention and other abuses that sometimes stretch back decades and somtimes resulted in death or permanent injury. New York City, with the nation’s largest police department, has rung up more than $1.1 billion in payouts since 2015, followed by Chicago at $253 million. Los Angeles County paid out more than $238 million. Police departments have faced increased scrutiny over their funding and treatment of minorities since the killing of George Floyd. Some city officials now use misconduct claims to guide police reforms, with the goal of reducing incidents that can spur potentially costly lawsuits.
Chicago is using claims data to identify root causes and modify police policies and procedures, said Tamika Puckett, the city’s chief risk officer, a position created by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, “What we’re trying to do is prevent what happened in the past from reoccurring,” she said. The city has changed how the police execute search warrants by requiring the presence of two officers in full uniform. Police tightened rules on vehicle pursuits because of the risk to pedestrians and other motorists. Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said chiefs are examining the conduct that leads to settlements nationwide. “There’s consequences to these payouts,” he said. “Litigation that visits City A today will more than likely visit City B tomorrow.” New York police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Frances O’Donnell said the number of lawsuits alleging police misconduct dropped 49 percent between the start of fiscal 2014 and the end of 2018.