Solving the Bad Cop Problem (And Creating Jobs)

Police-action-in-Ferguson-690There are too many bad, violent or mentally jacked-up cops roaming around. Worse, expecting the people who hire them to supervise them properly has apparently become too much to ask. So what to do? I have a bold idea.

States should pass laws requiring the termination of any law enforcement employee who through their actions generates civil liability upon the state. Correspondingly, cops should pay for malpractice insurance like lawyers and doctors.

Essentially, a law would need to be passed along the lines of:

Any law enforcement official within the State of Broke who through their actions as a law enforcement official causes a state, county, or municipal agency to be liable upon a judgment in an amount in excess of $15,000.00 (or $X) shall have their employment as a law enforcement official within the state terminated not in good standing (NO PENSION). Judgments or liabilities paid by insurance coverage of individual officers (and not municipal/state general liability insurance) shall not apply to this statute.

Boom….Problem fixed!  Zany? Impossible? Allow me to explain how it would work and how it could be done even without your state’s defunct legislature taking action. Fear not, I am not insulting your state: I live in Florida. Your legislature like mine is probably useless. However, almost every state has a mechanism which allows citizens to place laws on the ballot via petition drives…if all those marijuana proposals can get there, so can this.

Surprisingly, these people have accomplished a lot.

Surprisingly, these people have accomplished a lot.

Importantly, this does not replace or touch the other ways cops get fired – either because they were charged with a crime or violated police protocols. Rather, this catches the bad cops who are often protected by their own agencies by placing their fate in the hands of the civil courts.  Matters in the civil courts are decided by citizen juries seeking to compensate parties if they find the defendant’s or cop’s actions unlawful. They are not designed to fall over backwards to justify police action so superior officers can continue to pretend they are doing a good job.

Like this

Like this “lawful” use of force. Kelly Thomas before and after.

Those cops who deliver regular beatings or whose antics result in huge wrongful death suits but somehow stay on the job to collect a pension would be gone. No matter how much a department obstructs an internal investigation so it results in a self-serving determination of lawful force, the police have no control over the civil courts.

However, because the burden of proof in civil courts is much lower than the criminal courts, there must be a balance provided. Otherwise, the dragnet would catch the good or rather the not-deserving-to-be-fired cop as well.

Thus, malpractice insurance.

Here they come to save the day!

Here they come to save the day!

While insurance would apply for purposes of paying judgments, it is unlikely any police officer would be able to afford the millions in coverage to protect against the egregious behavior which results in too large a judgment…a la Kelly Thomas. (or the judgment which will happen regarding the violently fearful cop who killed that young boy in Cleveland, Tamir Rice)

Hence, any officer found liable in a now-all-too-often wrongful death suit would be terminated subject to the rule even after his policy has paid its coverage limits. Malpractice insurance by the nature of its economics would not prevent a bad cop from being fired in these instances. Rather, it would only partially alleviate the financial burden of the state and taxpayers while the cop still gets fired.

There would however be many instances of lesser damages where insurance would apply and prevent a police officer from being subject to the rule. But he does not get off scot-free.

First, and repeating myself, the rule does not prevent or replace termination of police officers by the standard means already in place. It only supplements the methods as another check and balance against the integrity of the offending officer’s departmental investigation practices.

Second, those officers who behave poorly and generate many complaints or create liability would see their premiums rise rapidly to match the corresponding risk that the insurer will get hit with a big judgment. Many of the repeat offender officers we hear about cause the state to pay 10K here, 25k there and 30K for another instance. These officers would find their premiums so high, they may not be affordable. That is of course if the insurer has not already dropped coverage – meaning any liability in excess of X would result in termination no matter what white-washed decision the department came up with to excuse the behavior.

Third, premiums would be very small for the vast majority of law enforcement officers. Despite everyone’s justified perturbance with the current state of the police, the overwhelming majority of cops are good/normal people. Go meet one under ordinary human circumstances and test the theory out. Most go through their entire careers without generating any significant complaints or ever creating liability. For these officers, premiums would likely be less than a few hundred dollars per year, if even so.

A role model! Elton Simmons

A role model: Elton Simmons

I am reminded of L.A. Sheriff Deputy Elton Simmons, a motorcycle traffic officer. Over the course of 20 years and 25,000 stops, he has never received a single complaint. Instead, he has countless commendations even from people he has ticketed. He is clearly doing many things right. This just and lawful man’s premiums would probably be about $5.00 a month or less. Heck, an officer like him may decide to not even purchase insurance because he appears to know how to operate respectfully, intelligently and by the book day in and day out.

However, as less capable officers generate legitimate complaints or create liability, they will see their premiums rise accordingly….just like car insurance.

The Police Chief may not care that a fresh-out-of-Afghanistan rookie is roughing up everyone unnecessarily and creating complaints from poor people. But the insurer will definitely care and would probably already have in place a system to periodically review all complaints generated by their insureds (the cops). They will look at those complaints to determine a pattern of behavior and readjust their premiums upwards or downward if needed.

when-did-the-police-turn-into-soldiers

By passing the above termination law and allowing insurance, the system would incentivize good behavior and punish bad. It would do so without relying on the integrity (or lack thereof) of supervising officers and internal affairs departments.

“By the book” would no longer be a arrogantly meaningless phrase but rather an all-important method for police to protect themselves from termination under such a system. Any police officer who truly operates “by the book” does not generate liability upon the state. And those cops not so adherent to rules would be strongly encouraged/motivated/incentivized to never stray from that book like these officers did in Mr. Hustle’ video…

(You may have to sign in to YouTube to view)

Many of the actions in that video would have never occurred if those officers actually felt the threat of termination or even the financial strain of paying boatloads in premiums to keep the job. Would you punch someone in the face unlawfully if you knew it was going to cost you and your family an additional $1,000.00 every year over the course your career? Or if it might even result in outright termination because of a civil jury over whom you and your buddies have no influence? It is unlikely anyone would throw that punch unless they truly had the law on their side.

Finally, a huge ancillary benefit to this system is the amount of jobs created within the insurance industry as well as the fact that many victims of unlawful police behavior will receive compensation much quicker than otherwise. Insurers do not always wait for a civil court case to settle a claim although it is common, especially if the claim is large. Often, smaller insurance claims are settled quickly without litigation even if the victims/injured have already retained an attorney.

So there it is in a nutshell. Rather than wait for people in power to act honorably when their own house is in disorder, citizen groups should take action through the ballot box. In my humble opinion, they should seek to add a layer of protection for themselves and state finances by creating a mechanism to terminate the employment of those who create liability while also allowing for malpractice insurance. And more importantly, put a bit of power and influence over the police back into the hands the people. This non-sense has long gotten out of control.

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15 thoughts on “Solving the Bad Cop Problem (And Creating Jobs)

  1. This is interesting. But how about a variation. After some sort of probationary period for rookies, the first liability incident is a freebie, so to speak, at least up to a certain limit. If a first incident does actually occur, then it goes on the officers record as warning and any further incidents become actionable in the way you’ve laid out. This would mean fewer insured, and subsequently, higher premiums for those who are, adding incentive not to screw-up. Also, maybe after a period of no incidents after the first one the warning comes off the record and the officer is back in the pool for a freebie.

    This means cops like Deputy Simmons NEVER have to pay for the insurance and a bad day doesn’t affect negatively for the duration of the officer’s career.

    That certain limit on the freebie can be lined up with coverage limits most officers will be able to afford when they are required to have the insurance, so anything over means it’s most likely not covered completely and termination is required anyway, so terminated.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. In actuality, it already exists, you contact your city managers office and get the number to risk management. the in turn will give you their insurer contact information and you can make a claim.. Even making a claim, paid out by the insurer or not will get RESULTS.. The insurer will ORDER the CITY to adjust the way they do business or drop their insurance.
    I’ll bet some of you will doubt this, that’s because you’re ignorant of the facts..
    Here is a little story of Niota, Tennessee, they lost their insurance TWICE and can no longer get insurance.. the police department was a factor in TML’s decision, but noted the major issue was errors and omissions by public officials.
    Here’s that story.. http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2013/06/20/296182.htm

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    • Interesting. Thank you. But you would still need a mechanism for termination, otherwise we are just talking about general liability insurance bought in aggregate, carried by many entities. What I propose via termination law would require each individual to carry insurance. It may work better because the majority of individual officers would want the records sent quickly to keep their premiums low.

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  3. Your ideas are excellent and well-considered. I think they would work. I would like to add one thing: no cop may be on duty wearing a mask. Cops who look like masked bandits? That’s not a public servant. The only reason I can think for issuing balaclavas to police is so that they feel anonymous and that they can do anything without fear of accountability. This needs to stop.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I fully support your idea, and there are at least another dozen important steps that need to be taken. The root of the police problem IMHO is that they do not protect rights, but rather violate rights. Here is a short piece on that topic:

    “…Have you noticed how governments want to own your language, so they can more easily manipulate you into giving up your rights and resources?…”

    http://www.titanians.org/the-language-of-rights-privileges/

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m glad to see another writer promoting this idea after years of commenting online about the same thing. I don’t feel like such a lone voice anymore. It is a necessary change whose time has come. I like this writer’s proposal to achieve this change by citizen initiative process, because I have little faith in the state or federal legislative process.

    Part of my proposal has been a fair way to shift the insurance expense from government entity to individual police officer. The government entity, being relieved of this liability, will see its insurance costs go down, but the police officers will see a whole new expense coming out of their salaries. I propose that the amount of reduced expense for the government be divided by the number of officers now required to buy their own insurance and be added to their salaries in a one-time pay increase. This makes the shift of liability revenue-neutral to the government and taxpayers and expense-neutral to the police. After the plan is set in motion, it’s up to individual police officers to bring their premiums down or cause them to go up based on their performance record.

    I have not included mandatory firing in my proposal, but mandatory individually-purchased professional liability insurance is at its heart. I can remember when it was perfectly legal for drivers to bet on their own driving skills and not buy insurance — I drove many of my younger years this way and won the bet by never having an accident. But I have accepted mandatory auto insurance as a necessary part of driving, and so to will police need to accept mandatory professional liability insurance as part of the job. If a police officer does not have his insurance papers on his person he should not be allowed to go out on his shift. Period. If a driver in my state is stopped and they don’t have insurance, their car is towed, they have to find a ride home, and they don’t get their car back until they have proof-of-insurance. If I can live with a requirement like this, so can police.

    One thing I have not done yet with this proposal is actually talk with insurance company executives to get their take on it. I would expect them to favor it, because it finally gives them some leverage over this liability pool. As things are now, they determine premiums for the government entity as a whole and have no way to encourage individual bad officers out of the ranks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great comment…thanks so much. You have put a lot of thought in this. I am sure there could be many variations which could achieve our desired result of police accountabiliy. As for the insurance companies, we can be certain they’d offer it but a big question is “what is the rate?” for the average officer and what kind of periodic assessment procedure would they put in place….a la how they check driving records.

      Edit: Also, if you have a blog where you write, please go ahead and link it so we may continue the dissemination of ideas.

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      • I too have been very curious about what the premium rates would look like when calculated for individual officers rather than for a department as a whole. But one thing stands out: if individual cops were to think they can’t afford to insure themselves for professional malpractice liability, why would they think the taxpayers should cover their bad behavior?

        I liked your example of Officer Elton Simmons getting through an entire career without a complaint. Certainly insurance companies could afford to insure him for a very low premium. I understand that some cops may have bad days when they’re a bit more testy than usual. But that’s not like a store clerk who gets out of bed on the wrong side and gets rude with a customer — when cops get testy people can die. Truly professional police know where to draw the line between their mood and their job, and that’s who I want on the force.

        Just for background info on myself, I have never been arrested for anything and my last traffic ticket was in 1977. My interest in this is not because I’ve ever been personally wronged by a police officer, but because I can no longer be sure that if I have an encounter with one that I’ll come out unscathed, and as an American that feels deeply wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Your last sentence…Ditto for me as well but more so, double ditto for our children going forward.

          Unfortunately, I do have some minor traffic tickets but I will admit they were deserved.

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