To protect and serve isn't exactly a response you can confidently say as police brutality rates have been on a constant high throughout the country. Instead, you can automatically respond with how large the amount of settlements are ongoing and continue to put cities in debt. I think all of us at some point in our lives have thought how victims, survivors, and their families receive millions of dollars in civil court. The answer is us. The money comes from us.
Police departments are funded by municipalities, and cities tend to give a big chunk of their change to them through budgets, also supported by the people. It's frustrating to hear, especially for myself, to see that officers use excessive force and can kill civilians that are our family and neighbors while bring upon the pressure for our area's revenue to be at risk to ensure settlements can be fulfilled. Settlements are also not even a possibility for many people and their deaths, negatively affecting the Black community the most.
With lawsuits to settle allegations of misconduct by more than 7,600 officers from around the country have amounted to more than $3.2 billion over the past decade, reports the Washington Post, there is still difficulty to track these settlements and how police misconduct has not been effectively assessed despite its increased attention.
Complications for retrieving this data isn't polarized from just small towns but also cities that have had the most money applied toward settlements of police brutality suits. Missing data that cities choose not to analyze for officer misconduct and court documents that need to evaluate individually to calculate the total of money are the biggest factors, which impact how we can learn police misconduct as whole. Cities have the choice on how data is collected and what that data is about.
Other components that are commonly incomplete are how many civil rights cases that involve misconduct are not always disclosed, and the definition of misconduct can differ city by city. Those who have been impacted by police brutality also might not move forward legally due to the harm they have experienced as there is the potential of having a claim filed against them by the police department or the city.
It seems like the more you learn about police misconduct and the settlements made from these horrible acts, the more lost you become from where this is happening and what are the outcomes in the first place. Categorization for each city can be as broad as they would like and as specific as possible. There hasn't been much success for the federal government to require local police departments and their municipalities to complete or acquire data of police misconduct well-versed, and that can become more detrimental in the years to come.
Civil lawsuits towards an individual officer or an entire department can also be settled through the funding of judgement obligation bonds (JOB) or coined the term, “police brutality bonds.” These bonds have been in high demand for the past decade, and they aren't supported by taxpayers. Instead, investors and banks loan these municipality bonds to the city, meaning they aren't flagged by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and can be paid back in any way that the city prefers.
So yes, taxpayers can be held responsible for paying the bonds that weren't asked permission of to approve. The more frustrating part of these obligation bonds is that they come with interest. Let's give an example from Brooke Sweeny, a journalist from Vice talking about bonds loaned out to the city of Chicago:
"Chicago last issued one of these bonds in 2017, for $275 million, $225 million of which was earmarked for settlements and judgements. The interest rate on that bond was over 7%. To put that in perspective, interest rates in the U.S. Treasury market are about 1%, and interest rates on New York City's municipal bonds are about 3%. That means an investor who bought $10 million of Chicago's 2017 general obligation bonds would collect almost $8.5 million in interest over the bond's lifetime. Chicago's taxpayers, on the other hand, will be paying off that interest until the bond matures in 2029."
Wall Street with their power to profit off of racial violence and have the revenue crisis in their control that many cities are enduring currently is an economic crime, one that depletes the progress in better funding of schools, infrastructure, and other public resources. Several reasons for cities to borrow money from investment companies and banks include police departments going over their annual budget and having clear access to these bonds from their city council, ensuring these bonds as an option for emergencies, and insufficient financial assistance from insurance companies to pay out settlements.
All of these explanations have one commonality: the overload of settlements and judgements that are sued against police departments all across the country.
The systemic problem of misconduct performed by local police departments and governments impact low-income individuals and people of color. Tamir Rice and George Floyd and their tortuous deaths also have centerfold in how civil settlements are relied on taxpayers yet are claimed to be “wrongful deaths.” These civilian payouts essentially take the load of off police officer's backs for being accountable of their violent and deadly actions.
Loopholes in the criminal justice system overwhelmingly exonerate police officers, permit them to often get away with murder, absolve them of financial penalties, and often authorize their ability to resign, obtain their pension, and get a new job in law enforcement says Likhitha Butchireddygari from Columbia Law Review. At most, officers face penalties that include paying fines, working desk duty at the office, or getting demoted. They are rarely found guilty in criminal court.
Alternatives that defer the priority of civilian payouts or judgment obligation bonds that have been introduced to many cities and their elected officials can help put monies back into communities.
Ending qualified immunity in some states have already happened, including Colorado in 2020 and New York City in 2021. To be simple, it means that officers can be sued for brutality in civil court and could possibly pay a certain percentage of fees for a settlement.
Individual officer liability insurance is an option that the police can choose to opt-in, with the model having the premium paid by the officer themselves or a municipality, depending on the precinct. It is also argued that a department's yearly budget should not increase because of this liability insurance and to be funded by the department on its own with what they have. The structure is critical and can prioritize police accountability when it comes out of their pockets and possibly make departments have stronger protocols on who they are hiring.
- PoliceBrutalityBonds-Jun2018.pdf (acrecampaigns.org)
- Wall Street Is Making Millions Off Police Brutality (vice.com)
- Police Misconduct Costs Cities Millions Every Year. But That's Where The Accountability Ends. | The Marshall Project
- 61ae25f5501314e4b7558803_Police Payouts report CJR_Final (2).pdf (website-files.com)
- Police Settlements: How The Cost Of Misconduct Impacts Cities And Taxpayers : NPR
- Taxing Police Brutality Bonds by Likhitha Butchireddygari :: SSRN
- How to Fix the Financial Gymnastics of Police Misconduct Settlements - Lawfare (lawfareblog.com)