Mar. 2, 2021

Beyer, Kaine Introduce Legislation to Address the Cost of Police Misconduct to Municipal Governments

Beyer, Kaine Introduce Legislation to Address the Cost of Police Misconduct to Municipal Governments

Will work to include the bill in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

Washington, D.C.—As the world knows by now, one of the officers who arrested George Floyd kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds—killing him and any chance he had of proving his innocence. Not only did this one incident of police misconduct cost Floyd his life—an inhumane and incalculable cost—it will likely cost taxpayers where he lived millions of dollars. Yet cities and counties are not required to report information about these costs to the federal government. New legislation would change this.

Today, Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA), the incoming Chair of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC), and Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), former Mayor of Richmond, Va. and civil rights attorney, introduced the Cost of Police Misconduct Act—legislation that would require federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to report police misconduct allegations and related judgments or settlements (including court fees) to the Department of Justice. The legislation would increase transparency and accountability, saving taxpayer dollars and potentially lives.

Beyer and Kaine will work to include the bill in the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which was introduced in the House of Representatives last week.

Congressman Beyer:

“Most Americans have no idea how much the cities and counties they live in spend on police misconduct because law enforcement agencies often settle these cases in secret—quietly burying criticism and controversy. You cannot manage what you do not measure. The purpose of this legislation is to measure the problem as much as possible, so we can manage it in a way that not only saves lives—the most important goal—but also taxpayer dollars, which would be better spent on programs and policies that are proven to prevent crime.

“But for police misconduct, George Floyd and many others, most of whom are Black and Brown, would still be alive today. My hope is that we can include The Cost of Police Misconduct Act in the police reform bill that Congress has introduced in George Floyd’s honor, so Americans can better understand what police misconduct costs all of us, both in terms of human life—the most important cost—and taxpayer dollars.”

Senator Kaine:

“Police misconduct causes real harm to real people and the erosion of trust in our justice system and the many good people who work in it. And the financial costs of misconduct are often shrouded in secrecy, thereby making full accountability impossible. The Cost of Police Misconduct Act will require transparency, giving the public powerful information that will spur reform.”

Every year cities and counties across the country spend hundreds of millions of dollars on judgments and settlements related to police misconduct—the costliest of which in many cases are civil rights violations (e.g. use of force) that result in the physical injury or death of residents. Cities and counties typically pay for such judgments and settlements through liability insurance (typical of smaller cities), or from a general or dedicated municipal fund (typical of larger cities), or by issuing bonds. Bonds are particularly common for large judgments or settlements, which exceed insurer liabilities or the capacity of general or dedicated municipal funds, and often result in taxpayers paying nearly double the cost of the judgment or settlement because the city or county must pay fees to financial institutions and interest to investors.

One recent study found that from 2008-2017, residents of Chicago, Ill.(2010-2017), Cleveland, Ohio, Lake County, Ind., Los Angles, Calif. and Milwaukee, Wis., paid an estimated combined total of $1.73 billion in bonds ($837.8 million) and interest payments ($891 million) related to police misconduct. According to a recent NPR report, residents of Chicago alone have paid about a half billion dollars for police misconduct over the past decade. The Cost of Police Misconduct Act would create a source of comprehensive data on the size and nature of such payments to help policymakers, stakeholders and the public understand the scope of the problem and the need for reform.

Mr. Hilary O Shelton, the Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and the Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy:

“For too long, law enforcement agencies have paid out millions upon millions of dollars in taxpayer monies to compensate for misconduct charges against mistreated Americans. This payout comes without having to officially alert the taxpayers of our Nation of the damages, liabilities, harm or in some cases even unintentional, unreasonable and reckless use of force. In too many cases these deeply disturbing actions even result in permanent disability or even death. By requiring police officers and units to report to the public the amount of money that is being spent defending and settling misconduct and liability charges, we will be incentivizing law enforcement agents to better serve and protect the American public in a manner befitting their uniform, as well as providing the people of our nation with a more transparent understanding of how their tax money is being misspent.”

Katherine Hawkins, Senior Legal Analyst with The Constitution Project at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO):

“Though the negative impact of police misconduct and racial injustice has been evident for a long time, recent tragedies like those involving George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have poignantly highlighted how much work we still have to do. Among a wide range of other reforms, it is critical that Congress enact policies that would result in a higher quantity and quality of data around how often instances of police misconduct occur and what the true costs are of that misconduct. It will be exceedingly difficult for us to ever make evidence-based decisions around policing reform without good data. It is important to remember that police misconduct, beyond the loss of life and of trust, can result in costly legal settlements that effectively defund other vital government services at a time when municipal budgets are under huge strain."

In general, the Cost of Police Misconduct Act would require:

  1. Federal law enforcement agencies and state and local law enforcement agencies that receive federal funds under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG) to report on an annual basis allegations of misconduct by law enforcement officers and judgments or settlements related to such misconduct, including settlements reached before a lawsuit has been filed, and, for each allegation and judgment or settlement reported:
    • the race, ethnicity, sex, and age of each officer and civilian involved;
    • the year in which the alleged misconduct took place;
    • the year in which the alleged misconduct was reported;
    • the type of misconduct alleged, which may include a body camera violation (whether a failure to wear or record), use of force (including type of force), a collision, racial profiling, negligence, property damage, sexual harassment or assault, false testimony, wrongful death, failure of duty to intervene and/or wrongful imprisonment;
    • any personnel action taken by the officer involved, which may include resignation or retirement;
    • any personnel action taken by the law enforcement agency involved, which may include termination, demotion or relocation of the officer;
    • the total amount paid to satisfy a judgment or settlement (and related court fees) with respect to such allegation regardless of the source of the payment;
    • the source of money used (e.g. general operating budget, law enforcement agency budget, bond) to pay a judgment or settlement (and related court fees); and
    • the total amount spent on all such judgments and settlements (and related court fees).
  2. The Attorney General to create and maintain an online searchable database of the information reported.
  3. The Comptroller General to conduct a study of the information reported to determine the leading cause of such judgments and settlements and what can be done to prevent them, and to, in consultation with the Attorney General, submit a report about the aforementioned study to Congress as well as make it publicly available.
  4. The Attorney General to issue a press release annually about the data reported for the previous year. 
  5. The Attorney General to determine the number of federal agencies that have law enforcement authority and make this information publicly available, as well as update it annually. (As a recent DOJ IG report explains, the federal government does not know the exact number of agencies that have law enforcement authority. In order to determine if these agencies are in compliance with this law and others, the federal government needs to know how many of them exist.)