Problems with police abusing their authority are nothing new, though they frequently go unknown to the public. There is no police department immune to allegations of excessive force or misconduct. The District Attorney’s office has turned their back, while those on the force often band together in order to cover their crimes, seeing a little abuse as par for the course. But when these crimes are discovered, they often lead to lawsuits. When the smoke clears, these lawsuits, judgments and settlements ultimately come out of the taxpayers’ pockets.
There is an ongoing myth that every lawsuit against the police ends in a million dollar lotto checks for the plaintiff; this couldn’t be further from the truth. Many lawsuits rarely result in big cash payouts; they are very difficult to win. Those that do win large payouts are a very small percentage.
To this date, there are no reports on how civil lawsuits of police brutality affect the taxpayers Westchester. But recently we have seen high price judgments awarded to victims of police abuse and only to see the officer walk away either being promoted, transferred to a different unit, allowed to retire receive their full pension and some have even become union president.
According to a Bloomberg report New York City plans to spend $735 million this year on settlements or awards in lawsuits claiming negligence, police abuse and property damage, the most in its history and almost six times what Los Angeles pays per capita. The cost of claims is forecast to rise to $815 million by 2016, more than the city pays to run the Parks and Recreation Department, according to budget documents.
It is sad to say that many municipalities will lack in snow removal in the winter, pothole repair throughout the year, maintenance on parks and playground the city council meetings are packed with residents complaining. But when they payout large sums to victims of police brutality with the dollars of the taxpayers, there are no complaints or demands for change.
Why have lawsuits increased against police? Many city lawyers blame a litigious atmosphere that makes municipal governments, an easy target for lawsuits. Law enforcement professionals say that motorized police patrol has taken the human aspect out of policing and has created a barrier between police and citizens.
Second, innovative police departments put less innovative police departments at a higher risk for civil litigation by improving police technology or implementing more restrictive police policies. Third, police misuse of force problems that have always existed are finally being brought to the public’s attention through multiple media sources, and an increase of social media. Finally, many juries are finding police brutality charges more common and easier to believe.
As a law enforcement professional, it’s understandable to use force when necessary. But when law enforcement professionals go above and beyond the force needed, it is indeed a breach of policy, procedure and training and in some cases a criminal act. Any Law Enforcement Professional that is certified by a state with “Peace Officer Status” and goes into any community and abuses his/her authority is no less than a criminal themselves. They have violated their departments policy and procedure and they have turned their back on the Law Enforcement Oath to uphold the law.
Here in Westchester, there have been video, audio and eyewitness accounts of police brutality while police management are still in denial. Instead of addressing the problem you will find in many police departments; management is more worried about investigating how the possible police crime leaked to the pubic instead of correcting the problem of disciplining the officer or officers involved.
So why are these officers allowed to continue working after they have proven that they are not worthy of the public’s trust? The reason is cultural and political. First, many law enforcement management norms and values are formed by the institutional culture of policing. The “Police Culture” that fosters an “us versus them” mentality.The cops are the good guys and everyone else is a potential bad guy. Whether or not they personally condone an individual officer’s behavior, or the behavior violates department’s policy, management have routinely rationalize the officers behavior with minor punishment and the problem is never resolved.
Second, elected officials are scared to pass the necessary legislation because of fear of being labeled “Anti-Cop” by police unions when it comes time for elections.
In reality, these costs to government are an unproductive use of taxpayer dollars. Many municipalities in Westchester would be better off using their precious tax dollars on much-needed public services such as education, law enforcement equipment, health care and road repairs.
Unfortunately, you can go into any municipality in Westchester and you will find repeat offenders in the rank and file. Many officers do their work with pride and dignity. But officers of good standing actions are always questioned when police managements, politicians and lawmaker’s have failed to hold those accountable, who are known to have stepped over the line on multiple occasions.
Some of the most recent research on civil suits and the police indicates that the implementation of community oriented policing (COP) policies and programs in police departments can influence the number of civil suits filed against the police. The study also found those departments that became committed to community-oriented policing through the adoption of COP policies and programs, lawsuits declined, something that police management has failed to do in Westchester.
One would think that the surge in police-misconduct allegations and civil-rights claims against police departments would be enough to ring an alarm bell for the elected officials and police management in Westchester. Especially a budgetary strapped city like Mt. Vernon that has paid over 900 thousand dollars in legal fees and judgments for ONE officer or the recent 1.5 million dollars paid out by Sleepy Hollow.
Unfortunately, the District Attorney’s Office, law enforcement management and our Westchester elected officials have been silent on the issue in correcting this ongoing epidemic in Westchester County. This is a trend that is ultimately paid by the taxpayer and must be stemmed and reversed with better risk management including training with local sand state oversight.
By failing to correct the problems in they system of law enforcement in Westchester County. Westchester’s politicians are failing in their fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers. As the taxpayers’ agents, Westchester politicians should be establishing proper law enforcement oversight legislation that will create checks and balances for protection of the taxpayer and the law enforcement officer.
It’s elementary; it’s the elected officials (usually a mayor) who appoints Police Commissioners who are over the law enforcement officers in the vital position as gatekeepers of the criminal justice system. The elected official and the Commissioner are joined at the hip to make it imperative that members of the public have trust that their department’s integrity with proper oversight, proper training, promoting positive behavior, ensure greater accountability, and deter malpractice.
Either we pay in the front-end of being proactive, or we pay in at the back-end in millions of dollars spent in settlements and judgments, that comes from your taxpayer dollars.