I’ve cropped out the asker’s name in case he used this question format out of a desire to remain anonymous. The query refers to this post, in which I suggested that police convicted of abuse should be required to pay their own settlements, rather than shoving the cost off onto taxpayers.
To answer your question as bluntly as possible: Yes. Yes, I do think it’s appropriate in every case.
The police are not a special class of citizens. They are not absolved of responsibility for their crimes because they wear a badge. They are not above the law. In fact, if anything, as enforcers of the law, they should be subject to greater scrutiny. If the rest of us, once convicted of trespassing on private property, beating a person until her leg is broken, and then handcuffing her to her bed while she recovers (as the officer is accused of doing in the original case which sparked this discussion), would be required to suffer the legal consequences, then police should too.
As for “frivolous multi-million dollar lawsuits,” one of the best ways to protect oneself from them is to not beat people up in their homes when you have no right to be there. I don’t do it, and wouldn’t you know? — I’ve never been sued!
But all sarcasm aside, police misconduct is a widespread and serious problem. 84% of police officers report that they’ve seen colleagues use excessive force on civilians, and 61% “do not always report serious criminal violations that involve the abuse of authority by fellow officers.” Yet even with that mass under-reporting from police themselves, 6.6% of cops are accused of misconduct every year! Brutality and sexual harassment are the two most common complaints.
Here’s where it gets interesting: Only one out of every three accused cops are convicted, while the conviction rate for civilians is literally double that. Aside from benefiting from the same protections against false charges we all enjoy, police are already quite safe from frivolous lawsuits — safer than you or I will ever be. In some places, like Chicago, the numbers are even more skewed: There were 10,000 abuse complaints filed against the Chicago police between 2002 and 2004, and just 19 of them ”resulted in meaningful disciplinary action.”
Finally, would requiring police officers to pay their own settlements really make them too scared to do their jobs? If so, we have a much bigger problem than I’d thought. You see, (comparatively) new “legal” encroachments on civil liberties like the PATRIOT Act aside, we have a pretty clear system of law and Supreme Court decisions which explains what cops can and can’t do. I struggle to imagine situations in which “you can’t beat single mothers while they’re mopping their hallway" is difficult to understand.
Or — well, there are a lot of other examples I could give, but I think the point is made: It’s not like these are confusing or rare situations. Police misconduct is a widespread, oft-ignored problem which hits poor and minority communities especially hard.
So, again, yes, requiring taxpayers rather than the guilty officers to cover settlements — to the tune of $350 million per year — is simply ridiculous. It significantly lowers the cost to police of engaging in abusive behavior, and that’s not a cost I want to see lowered.