How Police Unions Cost Taxpayers Millions Annually in Settlements

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Most taxpayers don’t connect the dots when they hear it. Still, every instance of police brutality, mistaken killings, or any other abuse of police powers that results in a settlement with the victims or their families is paid directly by taxpayers.

And thanks to police unions nationwide, the individual police who act abusively are well-known, and fully protected by police unions, their attorneys, and an unrepentant law-and-order segment of the population that blindly supports misfit police officers.

Police abuse settlements cost taxpayers over $300 million in the fiscal year 2019, all of it paid for by taxpayers. But there is more. The cost of legal fees, expert witnesses, prosecutors’ time, and everything else associated with the trials can add millions more.

Many cases also are settled before they go to court, so there is no way taxpayers even know about those instances.  All of this detracts from the time and money needed to run a city devoid of police violence.

Too Many Cities Share the Same Story of Abusive Police Unions

Meanwhile, the police unions don’t seem to mind if taxpayers clean up their mess. Police unions do not demand accountability from their offending members, even when they know the names of the most belligerent and violence-prone members among their rank-and-file union members.

Each city has its own similar sad story.

  • ABC News in New York found that between 2014 and 2019, “the city’s comptroller’s office dished out almost $4 million in settlements to almost 200 pre-litigation civil rights and police action claims that included excessive force.”
  • In Minneapolis, the city paid “more than $25 million for police misconduct between 2003 and 2019, including $20 million in one 2019 payout alone for the police killing of Justine Ruszczyk. The city agreed to pay nearly $800,000 for the police killing of Terrance Franklin in February,” according to Bloomberg news.
  • In Cleveland, the city paid $6 million to the family of Tamir Rice in 2016, the 12-year-old boy who was shot and killed by a city police officer in late 2014. The Marshall Project found that Cleveland paid out even more after the Rice settlement. In 2016, the city paid $7.9 million (including $3 million for half of the payment to the Rice family). “In 2019, it paid $6 million. That’s more than the city spent on police misconduct in the entire five-year period between 2010 and 2014.”

The National Police Funding database lists every city police department that has paid out police misconduct settlements, all of them paid for by local taxpayers. Almost every state in the union is covered and the amounts paid to victims and their families.

Worse, all of this is well-known to politicians who cave into the law-and-order crowd.  And in the shorthand of the demonstrators, No justice, no peace. No accountability, no peace. No accountability, no union.

And What Do Police Unions Say?

Nothing.

In an excellent 2020 article, “How Police Unions Fight Reform,” in the New Yorker, writer  William Finnigan describes how the head of the New York City police union ridiculed George Floyd, calling him a violent criminal, and how protestors were terrorists who deserved to be treated more roughly by the police.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because you have heard the law-and-order mantra for decades. You have not heard anything related to police accountability, especially the vehement reactionary positions were taken by police unions. Do a Google search of “police settlements” and you will see scores of articles on the topic from news and academic sources. It’s nothing new. It just institutionalized corruption.

Remember, the Knapp Commission and the story of Frank Serpico. The police unions did nothing to help the honest cop Serpico either, even after being shot as his comrades looked the other way.

Things have not progressed in 2021.

In the New Yorker article, Finnigan writes that “police in the Kentucky police union rallied around officers who had fatally shot an EMT worker named Breonna Taylor in her home. Atlanta police staged an organized sick-out after the officers who killed Rayshard Brooks were charged. Philadelphia police sold T-shirts celebrating a fellow cop who was caught on video clubbing a student protester with a steel baton.”

The best way to demand police accountability is to immediately revoke the pensions of any cops convicted of a felony and to make police unions themselves pay all legal costs for the members accused of violence.

Cops Celebrating Violence? It’s Nothing New

Even when cop protests become violent, it does not alarm city officials who are too timid to confront organized violence even when it wears a uniform.  Cops are not afraid to protest against anyone who demands reform or accountability.  If that sounds similar to Trump supporters, it’s no accident.  As evidenced by the off-duty cops who participated in the January Capitol insurrection and the resulting violence, many are identical.  And just as it is at the city level, it was the taxpayers who footed the bill.

So, when the cops hear about “defunding the police” and go apoplectic, ask their unions when they will start to repay their respective cities for their violent members.

Police unions are also an oxymoron.  Any legitimate union demands quality control from its members. Any union has membership requirements, continuing education, and its members are responsible for the work they perform. The machinists Union, plumber’s union, and the AFL-CIO all have member accountability

In resolution 28 adopted at the 2013 AFL-CIO convention, the union said: “The success and survival of the labor movement require our state federations and central labor councils to innovate and operate at a higher standard than ever before. Elected leaders, staff, key partners, and affiliated unions working together must develop forward-thinking plans and hold each other accountable for execution.”

Police Unions Must Impose Accountability

There is no mutual or individual accountability in the nation’s police unions. They are engaged in blind self-dealing.  So the next time you get a phone call from a local or state police federation asking for donations, tell them you’ll donate as soon as they start reimbursing taxpayers in your state for the millions of their union costs in police settlements.

It’s a guarantee they will not be bothering you again.

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