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Beyer, Kaine introduce bill to address cost of police misconduct to local governments

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Virginia Congressman Don Beyer and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine have introduced legislation to increase police transparency and accountability, saving taxpayer dollars and potentially lives.

The Cost of Police Misconduct Act would require federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to report police misconduct allegations and related judgments or settlements to the Department of Justice.

Beyer and Kaine will work to include the bill in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which was introduced in the House of Representatives last week.

“Most Americans have no idea how much the cities and counties they live in spend on police misconduct because law enforcement agencies often settle these cases in secret—quietly burying criticism and controversy,” Beyer said. “You cannot manage what you do not measure. The purpose of this legislation is to measure the problem as much as possible, so we can manage it in a way that not only saves lives—the most important goal—but also taxpayer dollars, which would be better spent on programs and policies that are proven to prevent crime.

“But for police misconduct, George Floyd and many others, most of whom are Black and Brown, would still be alive today,” Beyer said. “My hope is that we can include The Cost of Police Misconduct Act in the police reform bill that Congress has introduced in George Floyd’s honor, so Americans can better understand what police misconduct costs all of us, both in terms of human life—the most important cost—and taxpayer dollars.”

“Police misconduct causes real harm to real people and the erosion of trust in our justice system and the many good people who work in it. And the financial costs of misconduct are often shrouded in secrecy, thereby making full accountability impossible. The Cost of Police Misconduct Act will require transparency, giving the public powerful information that will spur reform,” Kaine said.

Every year cities and counties across the country spend hundreds of millions of dollars on judgments and settlements related to police misconduct — the costliest of which in many cases are civil rights violations that result in the physical injury or death of residents.

Cities and counties typically pay for such judgments and settlements through liability insurance (typical of smaller cities), or from a general or dedicated municipal fund (typical of larger cities), or by issuing bonds. Bonds are particularly common for large judgments or settlements, which exceed insurer liabilities or the capacity of general or dedicated municipal funds, and often result in taxpayers paying nearly double the cost of the judgment or settlement because the city or county must pay fees to financial institutions and interest to investors.

One recent study found that from 2008-2017, residents of Chicago, Ill., Cleveland, Ohio, Lake County, Ind., Los Angles, Calif. and Milwaukee, Wis., paid an estimated combined total of $1.73 billion in bonds ($837.8 million) and interest payments ($891 million) related to police misconduct.

According to a recent NPR report, residents of Chicago alone have paid about a half-billion dollars for police misconduct over the past decade.

The Cost of Police Misconduct Act would create a source of comprehensive data on the size and nature of such payments to help policymakers, stakeholders and the public understand the scope of the problem and the need for reform.

“For too long, law enforcement agencies have paid out millions upon millions of dollars in taxpayer monies to compensate for misconduct charges against mistreated Americans,” said Hilary O Shelton, the director of the NAACP Washington bureau and the senior vice president for policy and advocacy. “This payout comes without having to officially alert the taxpayers of our Nation of the damages, liabilities, harm or in some cases even unintentional, unreasonable and reckless use of force. In too many cases these deeply disturbing actions even result in permanent disability or even death. By requiring police officers and units to report to the public the amount of money that is being spent defending and settling misconduct and liability charges, we will be incentivizing law enforcement agents to better serve and protect the American public in a manner befitting their uniform, as well as providing the people of our nation with a more transparent understanding of how their tax money is being misspent.”

“Though the negative impact of police misconduct and racial injustice has been evident for a long time, recent tragedies like those involving George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have poignantly highlighted how much work we still have to do,” said Katherine Hawkins, senior legal analyst with The Constitution Project at the Project On Government Oversight. “Among a wide range of other reforms, it is critical that Congress enact policies that would result in a higher quantity and quality of data around how often instances of police misconduct occur and what the true costs are of that misconduct. It will be exceedingly difficult for us to ever make evidence-based decisions around policing reform without good data. It is important to remember that police misconduct, beyond the loss of life and of trust, can result in costly legal settlements that effectively defund other vital government services at a time when municipal budgets are under huge strain.”

Text of the Cost of Police Misconduct Act is available here.

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