Maybe the sums paid for police misconduct awards should be paid out of that law enforcement agency’s budget?
If you ran a business which regularly had to pay out significant sums to settle lawsuits over alleged misconduct by your employees, what might you want to do to address that? Wouldn’t you want to know which of your workers were accused most often, or cost you the most to resolve claims against them? You very well might, but according to a new study of practices by leaders of Chicago’s police department, that type of analysis has never been attempted, much less completed, there.
It’s not as though police misconduct has been a minor issue in the Windy City; over the past decade, the city has shelled out over $500 million in judgments and settlements over that issue (New York City’s experience is roughly comparable). A recent study done by Craig Futterman, a University of Chicago law professor, finds a fairly small number of police officers were involved in nearly half the cases that resulted in Chicago’s payouts, but they were rarely disciplined by their superiors.
Chicago police authorities had also never calculated which members of the force were most often named in citizen complaints or lawsuits over mistreatment or other abuses. The data showing which officers were implicated in cases where the city paid to settle misconduct allegations came about due to discovery questions the Chicago police were required to answer during misconduct cases brought by Futterman and others.
One list showed that in a workforce of many thousands during a six-year period, 662 officers had 11 or more complaints filed against them, headed by four each with more than 50 complaints. All of those four had been assigned to the Special Operations Section, a supposedly elite special unit later disbanded in a major scandal after it was revealed some of its members had robbed drug dealers, mistreated citizens and engaged in other crimes. Several of those with high complaint totals were convicted of on-the-job crimes. After extended litigation, the list was eventually made public last year.
Nor was Chicago unusual in not analyzing which employees were involved in misconduct cases that brought judgments or settlements against them. A study published last year in the NYU Law Review by Joanna Schwartz, a UCLA law professor, recounted her attempts to survey 140 state and local law enforcement agencies – half from major states, cities and counties and half from smaller jurisdictions – for publically available data on awards in cases involving police misconduct. When police authorities were unable to supply the data, Schwartz checked with the jurisdiction’s lawyers.
Even so, over a quarter of the large locations — including cities like New Orleans and San Diego, and such major counties as Baltimore County and the Houston area’s Harris County — said no government records had compiled, much less analyzed, outlays in police misconduct cases. Others jurisdictions could only supply partial data on the issues.
Schwartz argues governments should analyze these outlays, both to control these costs and to find ways to improve the quality of law enforcement. She adds one suggestion: if misconduct awards were paid out of the law enforcement agency’s budget, rather than out of general government funds, they would likely get closer attention at police headquarters.