Weeding Out Bad Cops

by Ed Sawicki - May 31, 2020 (updated December 2021)

Murder of George Floyd
Murder of George Floyd

What's to be done about police murders of unarmed black men and women? It doesn't seem like this problem will ever go away. In addition to this being horribly wrong, unfair, and racist, it's costly to taxpayers. Many cities are paying out so much in settlements that it's impacting their ability to provide services to their citizens.

Here's a market-based solution. Require that all police officers carry liability insurance just as you do for driving your car. They can't work in law enforcement without it. If they murder someone, are sued, and a court awards damages, their insurance is either canceled or premiums increase. They can't escape this by moving to another city and continuing to terrorize the public.

The liability insurance in no way prevents officers from being charged with crimes, of course.

This can be achieved with a nationally-negotiated contract that keeps costs relatively low—a national bulk purchase of liability insurance. Insurance companies must compete for the business. It's a lucrative business because most cops are not bad and there would be far fewer bad cops and incidents of murder after this program was up and running for a few years.

Cities can reimburse officers for the cost of a basic policy - one where there are no court awards for claims against the officer. The officer pays anything over that amount out of their own pocket. Cities would likely pay far less than they are now for court awards to victims.

Cities are paying out a lot of money in settlements. Between January 2015 and May 31, 2020, the city of Chicago paid over $350 million in settlements and legal fees, according to the City Law Department.

List of payouts to victim's families

Here's a partial list of Black people killed by police where the settlement amounts are over $1 million, adjusted for inflation.

Nathaniel Pickett II 2015 Barstow, CA 33.0
LaTanya Haggerty 1999 Chicago, IL 30.0
Bettie Jones 2015 Chicago, IL 16.0
Breonna Taylor 2020 Louisville, KY 12.0
Aaron Harrison 2007 Chicago, IL 11.4
Fred Hampton 1969 Chicago, IL 9.0
Walter L. Scott 2015 N. Charleston, SC 7.6
Freddie Gray 2015 Baltimore, MD 7.5
Tamir Rice 2014 Cleveland, OH 7.0
Eric Garner 2015 Staten Island, NY 5.9
Ronnell Foster 2018 Vallejo, CA 5.7
Laquan McDonald 2014 Chicago, IL 5.0
Amadou Diallo 1999 New York 5.0
Javier Ambler II 2019 Williamson, Texas 5.0
William Hope 2010 Chicago, IL 4.6
Rekia Boyd 2012 Chicago, IL 4.5
Freddie Wilson 2007 Chicago, IL 4.5
Akai Gurley 2014 Brooklyn, NY 4.1
Flint Farmer 2011 Chicago, IL 4.1
Philando Castile 2016 St. Anthony, MN 3.8
Wayne Jones 2013 Martinsburg, WV 3.5
Sean Bell 2006 New York 3.2
Cedrick Chatman 2013 Chicago, IL 3.0
Oscar Grant 2009 Oakland, CA 2.8
Darius Pinex 2011 Chicago, IL 2.3
Dontre Hamilton 2014 Milwaukee, WI 2.3
Calvin Cross 2011 Chicago, IL 2.0
Derek Williams 2011 Chicago, IL 2.0
Sandra Bland 2016 Encinia, TX 1.9
Michael Brown 2014 Ferguson, MO 1.5

It's not just murders by police that result in large settlements. It's false imprisonment as well. In Chicago, Jacques Rivera was imprisoned for 21 years for a murder that he did not commit. NPR reported that, “Rivera is one of at least 20 who have been exonerated in cases where that detective, Reynaldo Guevera, led the investigations.” Rivera was awarded $17 million.

These award amounts could pay for a lot of liability insurance.

Let the insurance companies weed out the bad cops since local governments and Congress can't seem to do it.