In many cases of police misconduct or brutality, the incident is often described as being unusual or out-of-the-ordinary, the actions of a few rogue officers. However, as more news media coverage has focused on these cases, it has become clear that this type of conduct is far from unusual. One measure of the commonness of these cases is the amount of money New York City spends every year on settlements and verdicts involving officer misconduct.
In the last fiscal year, the city spent $228.5 million on these cases. Police misconduct costs are almost as much as entire city departments and account for more than a third of the total of all lawsuits paid out by the city.
Because of the length of time required by the judicial process, many of these cases are not from today’s headlines, but from years ago. For instance, it was only in 2014 that the city settled cases from the misconduct that occurred during the 2004 Republican National Convention.
Ironically, fewer complaints and lawsuits were filed with the Civilian Complaint Review Board in 2016, but many of the recent settlements may have dated from 2012. The city appears to be trying to reduce these costs, but their strategy involves litigation against Black Lives Matter protesters instead of doing a better job of policing the police.
While the total number of complaints has decreased, that may be in part due to fewer arrests, and therefore fewer interactions between police and citizens. Worryingly for city accountants, the number of substantiated complaints increased sharply last year, up 68 percent. The fiscal year 2018 may be expensive for the city.
Police misconduct is not an aberration or accident. It occurs when policies like “broken windows” and “stop and frisk” lead to Constitutional violations that become standardized police procedure. Only when policies like these are ended and police are trained to follow Constitutionally permissible procedures with strict penalties enforced against cops who violate the law will these numbers go down.