New York City spent approximately $121 million to settle police misconduct cases in 2022, and between $4 million and $6 million of that money was paid to 300 people who were boxed in and violently arrested while protesting in the Bronx in 2020. The amount the city is paying to police misconduct victims has raised questions about the way these cases are being handled by the Law Department’s Special Federal Litigation Department. The Law Department is tasked with defending the city and all of its agencies, but it is also expected to act in a way that represents the people’s best interests.
Aggressive defense tactics
Several city leaders have said that the Law Department is defending police brutality cases too aggressively. A report published by ProPublica and New York Magazine in December 2022 revealed a culture within the department that is geared toward winning at all costs. SFLD lawyers draw police misconduct cases out for as long as possible to minimize the amount the city will have to pay, and this is done even if a case has merit and the facts are clear. Before the 2022 protest case was settled, city lawyers were sanctioned several times for failing to turn documents over in a timely manner.
The Law Department says that it defends cases aggressively to identify frivolous claims and prevent undeserving plaintiffs from receiving payouts. The department is considered one of the guardians of the city’s financial resources, but some officials believe that using some of its powers to reform police practices and procedures would do more good. There have also been calls for stronger action to be taken against police officers who misbehave. When reporters from the Washington Post analyzed police misconduct payouts in New York City between 2010 and 2020, they discovered that almost half of the money spent was awarded in cases involving just 5,000 officers.
More cases are pending
More than 550 police misconduct lawsuits were filed following the 2020 George Floyd protests, and 345 of them have yet to be settled. This means that many more millions of dollars will be used to compensate police brutality victims instead of improving the city’s infrastructure and services. Until police reform becomes a priority, things are unlikely to change.