Police Abuse

It Costs a Lot of Money to Treat Its Citizens as Poorly as New York City Does

Police abuse, malpractice, property damage adds up to $735 million a year in the Big Apple

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New York Police giving a citizen his money's worth.

New York City's dominion over its residents comes with quite the legal price tag this year—$735 million, to be exact. That's the cost the city will pay to settle claims and lawsuits against it for various sins, from police abuse to negligence to malpractice. The number is a record and also six times what Los Angeles pays on a per capita basis. Henry Goldman at Bloomberg News has crunched the city's legal budget numbers:

The cost of legal claims is forecast to rise to $815 million by 2016, more than the city pays to run the Parks and Recreation Department, according to budget documents. Among the incidents triggering payments are malpractice in public hospitals, police beatings, improper arrests, collisions with fire trucks and potholes causing accidents.

The increase in litigation payouts may put pressure on Mayor Michael Bloomberg as he weighs job and service cuts to close a $3.5 billion deficit in a $72 billion budget next year. The gap widened by $1 billion last month when a court struck down a plan to sell 2,000 new taxi medallions.

Personal injury claims make up $565 million of the settlements, but surprisingly, only $119 million is attributed to police misconduct or civil rights violations. Even so, it's still far higher than Los Angeles, which paid $54 million in total claims in 2011. (though the story notes that huge swaths of Los Angeles are under control of Los Angeles County, not the city, unlike New York). Payouts for claims of police misconduct in New York have increased 46 percent from 2006 to 2010.

Here's the police response:

Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne, the department's chief spokesman, says the Law Department is too quick to settle cases and that some lawyers manipulate the system.

"It's a cottage industry, suing the department," Browne said. Attorneys in the Law Department make an "economic calculation to settle these cases without taking into account the damage done to the reputation of the police from false or exaggerated claims."

Fay Leoussis, the Law Department's torts division chief, said the city has several issues to consider before agreeing to a settlement.

"In the vast number of cases, our police officers did the right thing, but from a risk-management point of view we want to settle meritorious claims, reviewing the venue, the sympathy factor, the injury," Leoussis said. "We're very concerned about our police officers' morale and we believe that what they do is on the right side of the law for the most part."

I'm assuming that "for the most part" is Leoussis' subtle concession to the tens of thousands of illegal arrests by New York police officers every year for marijuana possession. New York made pot possession a citable – not arrestable – offense 35 years ago, yet 2011 marked the second-highest number of marijuana-related arrests in a year in the city's history.

And illegal enforcement is not just a problem with marijuana:

In February, the city paid $15 million to settle a class- action suit filed in 2005 against the police on behalf of 22,000 New Yorkers charged with loitering from 1983 to 2011—in violation of a law declared unconstitutional in 1992.

The city was even cited for contempt in 2010 when it was discovered police were still making arrests under this law.

You'd think at some point typical police stubbornness and union protectionism would give way to the realization that these legal expenses threaten the city's ability to pay police salaries and benefits. But there's no sign of recognition. Christopher Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union – fighting the city's stop-and-frisk program – ends the piece with a suitable down note:

"Most people would be disappointed when they see how little reform takes place, even when large amounts get paid out," said Dunn. "Police officers who get sued usually don't even know the city has paid tens of thousands of dollars for their illegal act. So, how can there be deterrence?"

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  1. New York hot dog: $5

    New York parking ticket: $265

    Getting fucked by New York’s Finest: priceless

  2. Most people would be disappointed when they see how little reform takes place

    People still expect government to reform? Meh, they can just pay out the people’s money and do whatever they want.

  3. You’d think at some point typical police stubbornness and union protectionism would give way to the realization that these legal expenses threaten the city’s ability to pay police salaries and benefits.

    A mentality of supremacy over fellow citizens doesn’t lend itself to recognizing unfortunate facts.

    1. And why should it? It is not like they have ever been unable to raise taxes and stick the tax payers in the past. Why should they worry about it now?

  4. It is all because the legal guys are too quick to settle. The fact that the police never pay any price for violating people’s rights has nothing to do with it.

    You would think $815 million in losses would cause a little soul searching. Not a chance. It is all the damned lawyers’ fault.

    1. You’re assuming most of the plaintiffs’ claims aren’t legit.

      1. No I am not. I am assuming the opposite.

        1. OK, I guess my sarcasm detector had a hiccup.

    2. They need to devote an entire interview to letting this guy or others piss on the lawyers. A more combative relationship between the city lawyers and the police would be a good thing.

      1. Yes it would be. But government lawyers are now trained to “get to yes” which means torture the law to justify anything your client wants to do.

  5. The gap widened by $1 billion last month when a court struck down a plan to sell 2,000 new taxi medallions.

    When statist policies collide….

  6. . “Police officers who get sued usually don’t even know the city has paid tens of thousands of dollars for their illegal act. So, how can there be deterrence?”

    I have an idea on how there could be. A little something called personal liability.

    1. That’s going too far the other direction. Cops have to do coercive things in the course of their duties, and they can’t be worried about getting personally sued over every little thing.

      1. That is what liability insurance is for. Doctors do risky things every day. You could sue a doctor for virtually anything. That is why they carry insurance.

        All that would mean is that cops would have to carry liability insurance like every other professional.

        1. Doctors make way more than cops. Plus, doctors can always cover their asses by ordering more tests, etc, before making a definitive diagnosis.

          Cops routinely find themselves in situations where there’s not time to weigh the costs and benefits of action. You don’t want cops responding to a violent gunman to be hoping that someone else takes him out because they don’t want to go through legal hassles.

          1. Then pay the cops enough to buy liability insurance. And yes, it is hard to be a cop. So what? That doesn’t mean that the city should be the only ones liable when cops fail to meet a standard of conduct.

            And yes, I do want cops responding to calls thinking “if I fuck up and violate this guy’s rights, it is my ass”.

          2. And the standard of behavior is no different. The only difference is that right now the city pays when cops fuck up.

            1. John,

              I’d settle for the insane, whack-out compromise that you fire the dipshits when they get a claim against them upheld. I know I’m just a wild-eyed anarchist expecting a city employee that cost his employers 100s of thousands of dollars by abusing a citizen to be fired.

            2. A person does something beyond the scope of their job and we want to hold them *personally* liable.

              What a radical notion.

              1. Careful. Next you’ll be requiring that the cops actually know the laws they’re enforcing.

          3. You don’t want cops responding to a violent gunman to be hoping that someone else takes him out because they don’t want to go through legal hassles.

            You do want cops responding to a barking dog to be thinking about not taking him out because they don’t want to go through legal hassles.

            How many cops harass people, run red lights, speed all over the place, shoot dogs, and generally do whatever the fuck they want, as opposed to how many face violent gunmen?

          4. “Cops routinely find themselves in situations where there’s not time to weigh the costs and benefits of action. You don’t want cops responding to a violent gunman to be hoping that someone else takes him out because they don’t want to go through legal hassles.”

            First, police already have the benefit of a doctrine called “qualified immunity,” which basically means they can’t be liable unless what they did was so incredibly and obviously illegal, they aren’t personally liable. Second, doctors, lawyers, drivers, and tons of other people have to consider costs and benefits in a split second to avoid liability. A doctor may have situation arise during surgery that requires a split second judgment where the wrong choice is death. A lawyer that doesn’t object at the right time at trial can lose a critical issue for appeal, costing his client his freedom/life/money. A driver in a near collision has to decide whether to swerve or brake, with the possibility of hitting another car or causing a pile-up. None of those people get an out- I don’t see why the police need a special exception. Third, violent split second decisions are actually pretty rare for cops.

      2. I sincerely doubt that courts are going to set the police personal liability bar too low or anything.

        1. And you can sue the city for any little thing right now.

          1. That’s the city lawyers’ problem. I’d rather have cops responding to situations in which they have to protect persons and property, while the city lawyers sort out the jackpot-seeking of the perp and/or his family.

            Obviously there should be a more robust system for holding cops accountable for blatant violations of the law and of citizens rights, but personal liability isn’t the way to go.

            1. while the city lawyers sort out the jackpot-seeking of the perp and/or his family.

              Been watching a little too much Law Order in the off-season, eh Tulpa? Maybe you should just call them “skells”.

            2. Liability insurance company lawyers can’t do that? Insurance companies, since they don’t have the power to tax and are not answerable to the tax payers would be less likely to settle than city governments. The number of frivolous suits would go down under my system.

            3. I agree with Tulpa on this one. The proper answer is to fire the bad cops and criminally prosecute them when necessary. A system of personal liability isn’t going to work out. The analogy with doctors isn’t a very good one.

              1. The analogy with doctors isn’t a very good one.

                Why not?

              2. Great. So the answer is to 1) fire bad cops even though unions have successfully blocked that since the dawn of time and 2) prosecute cops criminally even though the cozy relationship between prosecutors and cops means that this rarely happens. Your answer is just more of the same.

                1. 1 and 2 are artificially-created problems. 1 can be solved by busting the public sector unions, 2 can be solved by empowering an independent police review board.

      3. They should be worried about it. They should be very very worried about it.

      4. Why can’t they be worried about liability?

        1. Because then they might be careful about doing coercive things to people.

          1. When you and your family are being held hostage by armed robbers, you’ll pray for the cops to do something coercive.

            1. Yes, like shoot you if you escape all by yourself.

            2. And the cops won’t be worried about that situation, as they’re clearly in the right.

              1. Right, because lawsuits are never filed to harass people who were in the right.

                1. Judges routinely toss cases on motions to dismiss / summary judgment anyway, before you get to anything expensive.

                  No reason to suggest that wouldn’t be de rigeuer in a personal liability regime. It’s the 1% that matters here.

                  1. If our civil court system is so efficient and just, explain why companies and nonprofits like Reason jump through all sorts of hoops to avoid having people sue them, then. Reason deletes posts to avoid it, which is obviously something they’re loathe to do for other reasons.

                    1. Tulpa, you can be sued or threatened to be sued at any time for almost any reason. That’s the reality.

                2. Sure they are TUlpa. That is why you carry insurance. The insurance company defends you.

                  1. Insurance isn’t free, John. It makes more financial sense for the city to pay for defense directly than to indirectly pay for “cop abuse insurance” by raising salaries.

                    1. Insurance isn’t free, John. It makes more financial sense for the city to pay for defense directly than to indirectly pay for “cop abuse insurance” by raising salaries.

                      No it doesn’t. The city will defend any cop no matter how bad. If cops had to carry insurance, insurance companies would refuse to insure bad cops. It would police cop behavior and weed out bad cops because bad cops couldn’t get insurance and thus couldn’t work.

            3. I get it!

              Tulpa is equating a hostage situation to beating someone up for failing to show sufficient respect for authority!

              Which fallacy is that?

              1. Which fallacy is that?

                Argumentum ad tulpicum.

              2. The fallacy is called “sarcasmic making shit up”. We see it a lot around here.

                1. If doctors have to worry about being sued for amputating the wrong leg, they’ll never stitch a wound!

            4. When you and your family are being held hostage by armed robbers, you’ll pray for the cops to do something coercive.

              I’ll be praying that the cops don’t arrest me for shooting the fuckers myself. I don’t rely on the police for protection. Hell, you can’t even rely on them to properly sort out crimes after they’ve been committed.

              1. I’m sure robbers wouldn’t dare pick on a tough guy like you, but most people could wind up in a hostage situation even if they have a gun. I’m totally pro-gun, but at the same time I recognize it doesn’t make me omnipotent. It just puts me at less of a disadvantage.

        2. Cops have to make spit second decisions.
          Sometimes they simply react based upon training with no thought process at all.

          If they had to second guess themselves then it might be them instead of an innocent civilian who gets killed.

          Officer safety!

      5. If they had to worry about personal liability then they might only use force when warranted, instead of whenever they feel like it.

        “Hmmm, this guy doesn’t seem to respect authority, but he hasn’t done anything illegal. If I punch him in the face and he sues, he might win. I might go to jail for assault. I guess I’d better let him go.”

        1. Stop with the horror stories! I can’t bear the thought of that level of anarchy!

        2. I’ve always supported methods of punishing true police abuse swiftly and strongly. Independent Citizens’ Review Boards, etc.

          The civil court system is NOT a viable substitute, as it’s neither swift nor strong and can easily be hijacked. As Reason knows well from the experience with the alleged sheep-lover.

          1. Tulpa,

            Do you not understand how liability insurance works? If you have it, your insurance company defends you when you get sued. You don’t pay for a lawyer, they do. And when you lose, they pay your judgement.

            1. So why would it encourage cops not to misbehave if the insurance company just magically takes care of everything?

              Oh, wait. You have to pay premiums to have insurance. Oops, left that out of your analysis.

              1. ISo why would it encourage cops not to misbehave if the insurance company just magically takes care of everything?

                The same reason you don’t get speeding tickets even if you can afford to pay them. Insurance companies would refuse to ensure cops with a history of misconduct. And any single instance of misconduct would result in higher rates.

              2. How does paying premiums change the analysis any?

                1. How does paying premiums change the analysis any?

                  He’s already attacked a straw man, now he’s moving the goal posts.

                  He only has one play in his playbook.

                2. John was making it sound like you have no reason to fear being unjustly sued because the insurance takes care of it. That’s bupkus because an unjust suit can still cause your premium to go up.

                  Plus, the elephant in the room is that cops are paid way less than doctors so they can’t be expected to take out the equivalent of malpractice insurance.

          2. I’m actually not really for a civil court system. I’m for the exact same court system that a non-cop would face if he committed the same offenses. In some cases, that’s civil, but sometimes it’s criminal.

            1. Problem is that cops sometimes have to do things that would be illegal for a non-cop to do.

              1. You’re doing a great job refuting an argument no one is making.

                1. Auric Demonocles just said that cops should face the same punishment that civilians do for the same actions. Good lord, at least try to make the baseless accusations difficult to refute.

                  1. If the cop “has” to do something, he didn’t commit an offense. If he didn’t have a warrant to go in the house and no probable cause, then yes, he should be charged with breaking and entering. If he’s got the warrant, no offense occurred to punish.

                  2. Auric Demonocles just said that cops should face the same punishment that civilians do for the same actions.

                    He said “same offenses.” That’s not an argument to consider all actions of the police an offense.

                    You want to argue that we want to criminalize or open up to civil action the warranted actions of the police acting within their remit. No one is arguing that. When cops break the law, they should be pursued for prosecution and punished the same as if a non-cop committed the offense. You got a problem with that?

                    1. How do we determine whether an act is warranted or against the law without going to court first.

              2. Problem is that cops sometimes have to do things that would be illegal for a non-cop to do.

                So, sometimes cops have to shoot the family dog in order to enter your backyard without a warrant. Sometimes cops have to beat homeless people to death for non-compliance. Sometimes cops have to search your vehicle without probable cause.

                Can you please tell me why they have to do these things?

                1. You missed the “sometimes”, I assume.

      6. “Cops have to do coercive things in the course of their duties”

        No they don’t.

        1. Cuffing someone and hauling them off to a cage is pretty coercive.

  7. “Police officers who get sued usually don’t even know the city has paid tens of thousands of dollars for their illegal act. So, how can there be deterrence?”

    What do you mean they don’t know. They know. They know that they are above the law. They can commit illegal acts with impunity. They know this. It’s part of the thrill. They can commit acts that would put anyone else in jail, then the taxpayers get the bill. That’s assuming the victim can get a lawyer. Why do they target young minorities? Because they can’t afford to defend themselves.

    They know. It’s naive to think otherwise.

    1. the police are routinely held to an even higher standard that other citizens, and routinely get suspended and/or disciplined for things that no citizen would ever have to deal with in their job, and the union helps to enforce their contract and make sure the officers are treated fairly.
      hth
      /dunphy

  8. It Costs a Lot of Money to Treat Its Citizens as Poorly as New York City Does

    Fuck you, that’s why.

  9. Three years ago special agent Christopher Stangl appeared in a video calling on people with computer science degrees to join the Federal Bureau of Investigation, saying they were needed “more than ever.” Last night, hackers with subversive online networks Anonymous and Antisec answered that call with nothing short of irreverence: they published what they claimed were more than 1 million unique device identifier numbers, (UDID) for Apple devices, stolen from Stangl’s own laptop.

    In total, the hackers say they were able to steal more than 12 million of these strings of numbers and letters, but, “we decided a million would be enough to release.” They announced the hack through the widely-watched Twitter feed, @AnonymousIRC last night.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/pa…..us-claims/

    Must be that new professionalism Scalia is always yammering about.

    1. The infinite paranoia of the DHS et al is making everyone more vulnerable.

  10. The Bloomburg writer didn’t go far enough. He should have crunched the numbers in other cities and seen what they pay. And then talked to plaintiffs’ attorneys and gotten their opinion on how quick each city is to settle. Finally, lets look at the number of cases filed verses the number settled in each city. He could have easily verified the police explanation but didn’t.

    1. Dude, too much like work. Why do you think he became a writer?

  11. “It’s a cottage industry, suing the department,” Browne said. Attorneys in the Law Department make an “economic calculation to settle these cases without taking into account the damage done to the reputation of the police from false or exaggerated claims.”

    Deputy New York City Police Commissioner Paul Browne: Cunt.

  12. Personal injury claims make up $565 million of the settlements, but surprisingly, only $119 million is attributed to police misconduct or civil rights violations.

    Slightly less than LA paid to settle all of the lawsuits arising from the CRASH/Rampart scandal.

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