Internal Police Office Misconduct Costs States Millions of Dollars in Settlements
Stories of police misconduct run rampant throughout much of the country. It might come as a surprise to many, though, that police are suing police more than anyone else.
Every year in New Jersey, New York, and other states around the country, millions of dollars in legal fees are spent in order to fight or settle cases brought against police officers and police departments. In these cases, police are often plaintiffs. Between 2009 and 2012, for example, New Jersey taxpayers had to pay $29 million dollars for police-vs.-police cases — almost $10 million more than what was spent on cases brought against police by civilians.
According to Antonio Hernandez, who is president of the National Coalition of Latino Officers, the issues are sometimes serious enough to warrant a lawsuit, and at other types are silly and inconsequential. The problem, says Hernandez, is often internal affairs overstepping their boundaries — something that can lead to a future lawsuit.
“When we’re talking about an officer who misplaces a piece of equipment, getting suspended for 30 days, it’s a little excessive. Especially when the piece of equipment is an $8 Slim Jim,” Hernandez explains, regarding innocent officers that are subjected to an abusive internal affairs system. “That’s what gets you into trouble [with lawsuits].”
John Shane, who is a former captain and a current professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, explains that many of the issues are legacy in nature — a series of embedded notions of loyalty that get passed down from each generation of officers and end up affecting hiring and promotion decisions. He also points out that, because the lawsuits are covered by insurance, departments don’t have to pay out of their own budgets. “There is no financial pressure on those departments to take proactive measure to reduce the numbers of settlements and judgments, he explains.
It’s worth noting that whistle-blowers in the system — those who point out problems and issues that could lead to future costly settlements — are often silenced or demoted as a result of speaking out. This is a problem considering that whistle blowing often comes with a court price, as well — only 22% of claimants win their case, while 23% of cases require a new trial.