Every year, the New York City treasury effectively bankrolls a union-controlled legal defense fund for officers financed in part by a direct city contribution of nearly $2 million a year that is expressly intended to pay for lawyers in civil cases where the Law Department has decided an officer’s conduct is essentially indefensible, reports ProPublica. Critics say that subsidizing such defenses could undercut police accountability by sending a message to officers that the city will back them no matter what. The Legal Services Fund of the Police Benevolent Association has in recent years paid for the representation of an NYPD officer accused in a lawsuit of slamming a 75-year-old man with Parkinson’s disease against the hood of a car after the man talked back to the cop, and has paid to defend another officer who court papers charge tackled an unarmed, chronically ill, 4-foot-8-inch, 85-pound man and shocked him with a stun gun.
The deal establishing the city’s contribution to the fund was specifically designed to pay for defending officers in civil litigation, where an officer could face a substantial monetary judgment, and created what has become an annual taxpayer contribution that amounts to $75 per officer. All told, the defense fund takes in about $5.5 million a year, which the PBA pays to the Manhattan law firm of Worth, Longworth & London to represent officers. The annual $75-per-member taxpayer funding for civil defense has been replicated in the contracts that cover thousands of NYPD sergeants, lieutenants and captains and the 9,000 jail guards who run the violence-plagued Rikers Island complex and other city jails. In fiscal year 2019, the city paid $220.1 million in settlements and judgments for police-related cases.