It seems like there’s a new story of police misconduct in the news about every week. It’s had a devastating impact on the public trust, but according to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, it’s also hitting the taxpayer in the pocketbook.
According to an article published earlier this year, the American cities with the ten largest police forces saw an almost 50% increase from 2010 to 2014 in the amount they paid out to settle lawsuits involving allegations of law enforcement officer misconduct. In 2010, those cities paid $168 million for wrongful conduct by officers—a seemingly staggering amount, but modest in comparison to the $248 million paid out in 2014.
The authors of the article—Zusha Elinson and Dan Frosch—conclude that a significant reason payouts have increased so dramatically is the greater prevalence of video evidence, either from bystanders or from the police officer’s vehicle or uniform. A number of states now require police officers to have either a dash-mounted or uniform-mounted video camera on at all times. Unfortunately, that suggests that the problem is not a new problem…it’s now one that is easier to document and prove. And the old strategy of trying to impeach the credibility of the victim (by portraying him as a “criminal”) tends to lose much of its power in the face of videotape evidence showing misconduct or wrongful behavior by a police officer.
Officials say the problem may only get worse. They contend that increased incidences of demonstrated police misconduct will only diminish trust in and respect for those officers who follow the rules. They fear that, as a consequence, people will be less inclined to defer to police officers in the performance of their duties, and more likely to push the boundaries of acceptable social behavior.
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