Jan. 24, 2018

Cities across the country spend millions upon millions of dollars defending themselves or even settling lawsuits dealing with police wrongdoings. Litigation fees, settlement fees, and in some cases, court-ordered payments can all but bankrupt a city. A recent article from Governing shows just how detrimental a single wrongful death lawsuit can be to a city’s budget.

What Kinds of Expenses do Cities Have?

Cities have various expenses that relate to police officer misconduct, and the actual expenses vary widely from location to location. The Governing article focused on 20 of the largest cities in the US and their costs. In every case, these expenses fall into three different categories:

  • Payouts – A payout is the amount of money a city gives to someone who was victimized by police wrongdoing. This payout could be a settlement, or a means of keeping the case out of court and therefore out of the public eye, or it could be a payment ordered by the court should the victim win his or her case. Across all 20 cities for which information was available, $1,156,508,402 was the average annual payout amount – well over a billion dollars.
  • Litigation – Cities pay exorbitant legal fees all in the name of defense, and this is true even if the officer being accused of wrongdoing is found innocent in the long run. These litigation fees are payments made by cities directly to lawyers along with any related court costs. The average annual litigation fees paid across all 20 cities is roughly $127,541,734.
  • Insurance – Most cities carry insurance designed to protect them in the event someone is injured or killed due to an officer’s wrongdoing. All 20 cities combined pay an annual average of $24,293,544 in insurance premiums alone.

Which Cities Pay the Most?

Of the 20 cities willing to provide financial data for the years between 2014 and 2016 for the purpose of the article, there were two jurisdictions with truly mind-boggling numbers. These were New York and Chicago. In New York, the average annual expenditure for police-related lawsuits is $710,608,666. This number represents payouts alone; no litigation or insurance information is available for New York. In Chicago, more than $153,133,333 accounted for payouts alone. Again, no information about litigation and insurance cost was available from this jurisdiction.

How City Officials Can Mitigate These Costs

Though city officials often argue that payout, litigation, and insurance costs are far too high, there is one primary reason for this – the failure to properly and adequately train police officers. Officers who are better trained to react appropriately in a variety of situations are far less likely to find themselves involved in lawsuits due to alleged wrongdoing. Utilizing use of force simulator training, firearms training, and even de-escalation training, reductions in these costs are entirely possible.

There is no doubt that lawsuits involving police wrongdoings, including shooting deaths and even abuse of authority, cost cities across the country billions of dollars every year collectively. Most of these cities can benefit from training their officers more thoroughly with products like VirTra’s judgmental use of force simulation training.