Civil settlements and jury verdicts occur in police civil misconduct litigation. Should this cost be borne by the police agency? Should the involved police employees be subject to some of this cost?
Due to the nature of policing, police departments across the country routinely face civil litigation. With reasonable suspicion or probable cause, police officers can seize an individual and take away their constitutional rights and due to that power, officers must be right or they could find themselves and their department in a multi-million dollar lawsuit. During my 16 years in law enforcement, my agency has been the subject of multiple frivolous lawsuits and fortunately, everyone has been dismissed with prejudice.
There was one incident where an officer did not go through the proper channels and he obtained an arrest warrant on the wrong person. After that person was arrested, the city reached out to him and offered him a $35,000 settlement and he settled without filing suit. That incident brings up the question, should the agency or the officer involved be responsible for the cash settlement? In my opinion, it depends on a couple of things. First, did the officer act within policy? If the officer acted within policy, I believe the financial burden should fall on the agency. If the officer violated a policy, my next question would be, were there any red flags in the employee’s background that would have indicated that they were a “bad hire”? If there were things that the agency overlooked, I think the agency should be liable. If there was not anything in the background that the agency overlooked, I think the officer’s training should be examined to ensure they were trained appropriately. If the agency did everything they could to ensure they conducted a thorough background check, adequate training, and the officer violated a policy, I think the financial burden should fall on the officer.
In 2016, I was personally named in a civil suit and accused of violating a suspect’s civil rights. I was surprised by the lawsuit because the suspect claimed things that were clearly contradicted by my cruiser’s dash camera. The suspect sued for 3 million dollars and despite having dash camera evidence to refute his claim, the case lasted for two years. The case was eventually dismissed but it left me wondering, why did it take two years to dismiss a lawsuit that was clearly contradicted by video evidence? After looking into it, I believe the media demonizing the police plays a pivotal role in civil courts being overwhelmed with frivolous lawsuits. Every time an officer makes a mistake, it is on the news for days and it gives the perception that most officers are bad. Due to that perception, when someone is arrested, they feel like the cops are just out to get them and they must have done something wrong. Police departments must revert back to community policing and also have an active role on social media highlighting positive things that their officers do on a daily basis.