Police Brutality's Price Tag: $1.02 Billion in the Last Five Years Alone

Claire Bernish
July 27, 2015 

(ANTIMEDIA) Cincinnati, OH — Thanks to a recent investigation, it’s been found that America’s notoriously brutal and appalling police tactics now bear a price tag: $1.02 billion—and rapidly rising.

Zusha Elinson and Dan Frosch of the Wall Street Journal conducted an exhaustive study of public records and found that the “10 cities with the largest police departments paid out $248.7 million last year in settlements and court judgments in police-misconduct cases, up 48% from $168.3 million in 2010.”

Claims paid for all alleged beatings, shootings, and wrongful imprisonments by the departments in those same cities totaled $1.02 billion—in just five years. With property damage, vehicle crashes, and various other police incidents added to that five-year sum, the figure astonishingly surpasses $1.4 billion.

These astronomical figures aren’t entirely indicative of a corresponding upsurge in police misconduct since totals include compensatory “efforts to resolve decades-old police scandals. In 2013 and 2014, for example, Chicago paid more than $60 million in cases where people were wrongfully imprisoned decades ago because of alleged police misconduct.” Compensation per resolution is substantially more expensive than in the past. Philadelphia settled eight such cases in 2010 for an average of $156,937—but just four years later, ten cases averaged $536,500. In one example cited by the WSJ:

“New York City agreed last year to pay $41 million to five black and Hispanic men imprisoned for the 1989 beating and rape of a jogger in Central Park, then freed after another man confessed and DNA evidence confirmed his story. City lawyers under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg had fought a lawsuit brought by the five men, which alleged that detectives coerced confessions from them as teens. Under current Mayor Bill de Blasio, the city agreed to a settlement equal to about $1 million for each year each man spent behind bars.”

Civil rights violations and other forms of misconduct were the costliest resolutions for most police departments. According to the WSJ, “Dallas civil-rights lawyer Don Tittle says the increased availability of camera footage and shifting attitudes toward police are affecting cases.” As Tittle explained, “[W]ith the advent of video, and the changing perception of society, I don’t think police are held in the same regard” in terms of steadfast integrity that had proven difficult to contradict in court in the past.

Lawyers point to high-profile incidents of police brutality—such as officer Darren Wilson’s fatal shooting of unarmed Mike Brown in Ferguson or the prohibited chokehold by a New York City cop that killed Eric Garner, as well as an untold number of others—that have led to bias in the national jury pool toward high settlements and payouts. New York, for instance, paid out $93.8 million  in 2010, but just four short years later, the figure topped $165 million.

Police officials emphasize that any payment, much less a multi-million dollar settlement, is no admittance of wrongdoing. But with lawsuits increasing in number, departments like the NYPD are developing risk management bureaus or modifications to reduce risk and creating police litigation units to handle the influx. The city’s Comptroller, Scott Stringer, developed a legal claim status tracking program in an attempt to get a handle on where the most issues occur so as to institute changes to prevent, rather than pay out, future claims.

Those who are fully versed in militarized police culture and the consequent epidemic of excessive force see such hefty payouts representing both sides of a coin. Though a death can’t possibly be monetized, payouts can serve as a modicum of justice for victims’ family members.

But the sad fact remains that payouts simply come from the taxpayers since many insurance plan types draw the funds from the city. This creates a strange dynamic where public outrage from a brutality case is reignited over true lack of police accountability—even foisting it onto the very population victimized by police. This amounts to an armor of impunity— police simply don’t have to pay, even when their errors cost a person’s life.

“The numbers are staggering and they have huge consequences for taxpayers,” said Kami Chavis-Simmons, director of the 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 civil suits.”

The irony that police brutality comes down to purse strings can’t be glossed over. Activists and community members have been pleading for such reforms for years on end—but the value of human life apparently doesn’t mean much unless it’s measured in cold cash. Now that brutality has a dollar value, perhaps reform of such heinously flawed policing can finally begin.


This article (Police Brutality’s Price Tag: $1.02 Billion in the Last Five Years Alone) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Claire Bernish and theAntiMedia.org. Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11pm Eastern/8pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, email edits@theantimedia.org.

Claire Bernish joined Anti-Media as an independent journalist in May of 2015. Her topics of interest include social justice, police brutality, exposing the truth behind propaganda, and general government accountability. Born in North Carolina, she now lives in Ohio. Learn more about Bernish here!

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