Newly-released documents indicate that misconduct by police officers has cost the city of Philadelphia $40 million in losses and settlements since the beginning of 2009. That's about $19,000-worth of bad cops every single day for nearly six years. Excessive force alone has cost the city more than $13,400,000.
The data comes from Tom Feathers at MuckRock, a blog dedicated to making Freedom of Information requests. Feathers explains how he came up with this enormous number:
MuckRock analyzed lists of civil lawsuits brought against the cities' police departments, which were obtained through public records requests. The data only includes cases brought since Jan. 1, 2009, not all cases closed since 2009.
We sorted out cases brought as a result of alleged actions that we determined to be police misconduct – wrongful shooting deaths, excessive force, illegal searches, etc.
We chose not to include lawsuits that appeared to arise out of negligence rather than intentional police actions, such as car crashes involving police cruisers.
In some instances, where the nature of the case could not be determined, we excluded lawsuits.
In total, MuckRock sifted through 1,745 cases, and determined that 1,223 were clear cases of misconduct. "Of those, the city settled 584 and lost two, roughly 48 percent, at an average of $69,401 per lawsuit," writes Feathers.
He highlights the two most expensive cases, each of which cost $2.5 million. Officer Larry Shields, who was involved in another shooting the month prior, entered the apartment of a man named Stephen Moore and "opened fire without saying a word." Another case involved an officer unloading 62 rounds into two men on a chase, killing one. Officers claimed they saw the men reach for guns, but no weapons were ever found.
Philadelphia's costly problem can't be explained away by a couple of big cases, though. Feathers contextualizes it. He put together data on "Indianapolis, San Francisco, San Jose, and Austin," which have "a combined population more than double Philadelphia's estimated 1,526,006 residents." They have in total settled or lost only 122 misconduct cases, a mere 20 percent of Philadelphia's.
So, what kind of cases have law enforcement officers settled? As stated above, excessive force has cost the city over $13 million. That's because the city has settled 223 cases of it, by far the most frequent type of misconduct. Next is assault and battery at 160 cases. There have been a relatively small number of shootings – 29 to be exact – but those have actually been the costliest, with the city paying out $13,800,000.
Corrections: The article inaccurately stated that Philadelphia paid out the $40 million in lawsuits; It paid out the money in loses and settlements. And, the last paragraph inaccurately stated that officers were found guilty, when in fact they settled in most situations.