Police Misconduct, Officer-Involved Shootings Account for Millions of Dollars in Payouts for U.S. Cities

Today’s heightened focus on police misconduct and officer-involved shootings have helped spark needed conversations about the policies and procedures of law enforcement and the rights of American citizens. While these conversations tend to focus a lot on firearms, accountability, and avoidance of excessive and lethal force in police work, they sometimes gloss over the resulting implications for victims and their families, especially when it comes to their legal fights for justice and compensation.

Today, cities throughout the U.S. spend millions of dollars each year to settle lawsuits involving police misconduct. According to The Washington Post, the City of Chicago paid roughly half a million in settlements over a ten-year period between 1994 and 2014 for claims involving the Chicago PD, and major U.S. cities can average anywhere from a few million dollars to tens of millions of dollars in police-related settlements annually, with smaller cities feeling the largest financial impact. Here in Ohio, the city of Cleveland paid over $13.2 million to settle lawsuits over police misconduct in the two-year period following the 2014 death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice.

Figures like these can provide a great deal of insight, both for cities that want to reform law enforcement to reduce incidents involving the use of force and the lawsuits that can follow, and for victims and their families. One important point to consider is that there may be a number of claims that comprise the large settlement figures. While high-profile cases may receive attention and be settled for higher sums, there are many cases which do not receive attention, and which may be settled quickly for lesser amounts. This can include settlements over claims alleging civil rights violations, wrongful imprisonment, and injuries or deaths in custody.

Another important point to take into account is that the majority of cases involving police abuse and misconduct are resolved through out-of-court settlements, which means that police do not have to admit to wrongdoing. Judgments, which are obtained through trial and jury verdicts, are much less common. For example, the city of Cleveland was held liable for nearly $18 million for two judgments arising from police misconduct cases from 1999 and 2012, both of which were appealed.

Police Brutality & Misconduct Lawsuits in Ohio

At Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP, our Cleveland civil rights attorneys have represented victims of police brutality, police misconduct, and civil rights violations throughout the city, the state of Ohio, and the country. We know that we play an important role in fighting for victims of injustice at the hands of law enforcement, not only when it comes to raising awareness and ensuring accountability so as to prompt needed change, but also for victims and families who are deserve fair outcomes and full compensation following inexcusable misconduct.

While more attention has been given to these issues over recent years, the fact remains that U.S. cities are increasingly paying more to settle police misconduct lawsuits. However, those higher figures may suggest that cities are paying more because they have more claims to address, and not necessarily that they are compensating victims and families for what they truly deserve. Additionally, the numbers show those settlements may not have as substantial an impact on prompting law enforcement to reform their policies and reduce preventable incidents of abuse, excessive force, and civil rights violations that ultimately cost taxpayers money as many would like it to have.

For some, that slow or stagnant change may stem from a lack of accountability that come from settlements that quickly brush wrongdoings aside without the need to admit fault. Others have suggested having officers themselves pay for damages they cause, though they may not have enough to cover significant harms, or funding payouts using police pension funds, which may penalize good officers for the wrongdoings of others. The problem is certainly a difficult one to solve, which is why those who are affected by them – from cities and police departments to victims and taxpayers with the power to vote – will likely need to work together to address the underlying issues (by passing better policies and ensuring greater accountability through things like dash and officer cameras) if there is any real progress to be made.

As the conversation continues, our legal team will remain committed to protecting the rights of police misconduct victims and families who need bold advocates to ensure their claims are handled in an appropriate and fair manner, and fight for the compensation they deserve. If you wish to discuss a potential case involving preventable harm and police misconduct, contact our firm for a free and confidential consultation.


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