Keeping It Real: Officers Should Share the Financial Costs of Their Bad Behavior
by S.E. Williams
Last week we learned that Riverside County agreed to a $400,000 settlement in response to a claim filed by parent Daniel Silva resulting from a use of force incident against his son in September 2018 who was a high school freshman when the incident occurred.
Sprinkled in the news throughout each year are reports of settlements made by county officials resulting from inappropriate actions by deputies or police, many resulting from use of force scenarios.
In 2022, the Washington Post published an investigative report looking at the hidden billion-dollar cost of repeated police misconduct.
The report examined data for nearly 40,000 payments at 25 of the country’s largest police and sheriff’s departments–Riverside was among them–and found that in the course of the recent decade, more than $3.2 billion was spent to settle claims nationwide.
One would think Riverside County has deep pockets because the report shows that between 2010 and 2020, the county paid an astounding $77 million in payments resulting from judgements and settlement claims resulting from officers’ aberrant actions.
Although the county and its sheriff’s department has insurance to pay for such costs, with any such claim, taxpayers are still on the hook whether it’s to offset the cost of lawyers, investigators, miscellaneous court costs, etc. There is always a price to be paid and depending on how long a case drags on, the more those costs accrue. Although some can claim budgets include funding to offset these costs, those budget dollars come from the taxpayers.
Many activists have argued police misconduct costs should be directly linked to police budgets as a way to mitigate bad behavior by deputies/police. There is also a case to be made for those who abuse citizens–especially repeat offenders who continue to do so–should be personally penalized financially. I personally believe they should be terminated, however termination is difficult as long as the protections of qualified immunity remain in place.
When SB 2 became effective in January 2022, although it did not do away with the protections afforded officers via qualified immunity, it did make it easier for victims of excessive force to press civil lawsuits by eliminating certain immunities.
Recognizing that SB 2 should not be the final word in this regard, perhaps California should look to Colorado for an innovative option that may move the state further along in its quest to reduce police misconduct.
Colorado has implemented a hybrid system where officers found guilty of using excessive force or other violations, are now required to pay five percent of a judgment up to $25,000–whichever is less. In addition, the law allows the officers to purchase liability insurance.
Requiring officers to share the cost of his/her bad behavior could be a giant step toward finding a solution to the issue of excessive force and police misconduct in general. However, recognizing the stranglehold police/sheriff unions have over politicians in this state Colorado’s approach may be a heavy lift in California.
Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.