Cost of police misconduct highlights need for risk management

July 16, 2016
By Bryant Jackson-Green

The city of Chicago paid over $146 million in police misconduct and public safety claims in 2013 and 2014, according to the city inspector general’s report.

Police misconduct cases, such as the shooting of Laquan McDonald, inflict grievous harm on individuals and communities. And in a cash-strapped city burdened by debt and fiscal mismanagement, the financial costs of police misconduct impose further financial hardship on Chicagoans.

Taxpayers have spent over $642 million settling and litigating police misconduct between 2004 and 2015, according to research by the Better Government Association.

A recent advisory from Chicago’s Office of the Inspector General noted that in 2013 and 2014 alone, Chicago spent an estimated $146.3 million toward police misconduct payments, out of a total $457.8 million in claims for things as varied as workers compensation claims and parking- meter dispute settlements. The report recommends the city implement a “comprehensive risk management program” to address the hundreds of millions of dollars in claims for which the city is liable.

Some risk management system is clearly needed. The financial burden of police misconduct payments was one of the major driving forces behind the adoption of body cameras in Illinois. Yet, the Department of Finance’s review of claims in 2013 and 2014 didn’t even look at police misconduct, even though it includes ”some of the most expensive and high profile claims against the City,” according to the report.

The advisory suggests improved risk management procedures that other cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Sacramento, have in place.

For example, in New York, the city comptroller’s office “holds weekly meetings with the New York Police Department to review claims trends and discuss any spikes in complaints against particular officers.” That way, the city can potentially address discipline-related trends before they end up becoming serious issues.

The report also suggests the creation of a “Chief Risk Officer” position to handle the risk management functions “currently performed, in isolation, by [Department of Finance, the Department of Law,] and the Committee on Finance.” While having one organization dedicated to managing the city’s risk could be helpful, it would have to be weighed against the costs of new bureaucracy and be effective in a way rarely seen in Chicago city governance.

The mayor’s office responded to the advisory recommendations by announcing a working group made up of representatives from the Department of Finance, Department of Law and other relevant city agencies to look at claims issues.

The group will not, however, be addressing police misconduct until the City Council has implemented reforms from the Police Accountability Task Force and the Department of Justice finishes its investigation of Chicago Police Department practices in the wake of the Laquan McDonald shooting.

The fact that the city of Chicago has paid over half a billion dollars to settle police abuse claims over the last decade, and has even issued bonds to help cover these costs, shows serious changes are needed. Chicago residents shouldn’t have to bear the societal costs and damaged police-community relations caused by tragic instances of police misconduct, and Chicago taxpayers can’t afford to keep footing multimillion-dollar bills for these cases every year.

TAGS: Chicago, CPD: Chicago Police Department, criminal justice reform, Laquan McDonald, police, police body cameras, police misconduct, Rahm Emanuel