Insurers Will Pick Up Tab For Police Brutality in St. Paul

This is an interesting policy question: Should cities be allowed to insure themselves against claims of police brutality? The City of St. Paul agreed to host the Republican National Convention on the condition that Republican Party arranged "to buy insurance covering up to $10 million in damages and unlimited legal costs for law enforcement officials accused of brutality, violating civil rights and other misconduct." Private donations were used to purchase the insurance.

The plus side of the agreement is obvious: taxpayers won't have to pay damages resulting from police misconduct. But the downside, while less obvious, is troubling: [more...]

[S]ome critics say the agreement has only encouraged police to use aggressive tactics knowing they won't have to pay damages. "It's an extraordinary agreement. Now the police have nothing to hold them back from egregious behavior," said Michelle Gross, who leads Communities United Against Police Brutality.

Taxpayers stuck with a huge bill have some incentive to hold public officials accountable for police brutality at the next election. Insurers don't have that power.

Of course, some municipalities routinely insure themselves against police misconduct. Should such insurance agreements be prohibited as a matter of public policy?

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    Hm (none / 0) (#1)
    by Steve M on Thu Sep 04, 2008 at 12:31:18 PM EST
    Generally public policy precludes you from insuring against intentional or grossly reckless conduct.

    I represent a lot of insurers in my practice and this strikes me as very creative underwriting.  I've never heard of this type of liability insurance before.

    I suspect this policy has an exemption (none / 0) (#6)
    by oculus on Thu Sep 04, 2008 at 01:05:08 PM EST
    for intentional misconduct/gross negligence.  

    Well (none / 0) (#7)
    by Steve M on Thu Sep 04, 2008 at 01:07:13 PM EST
    that's a pretty big distinction to note, as police brutality seldom occurs by mere happenstance.

    If these policies are paying for defense costs and not the actual amount of an adverse judgment, then there's not really a public policy concern.  The taxpayers will still feel the bite if actual misconduct occurs.


    Perhaps (none / 0) (#2)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Thu Sep 04, 2008 at 12:40:52 PM EST

    Taxpayers stuck with a huge bill have some incentive to hold public officials accountable for police brutality at the next election.

    But the legal bills can be quite substantial even if no brutality is found and no adverse judgements rendered.  The taxpayers should not be forced to pay to defend against meritless suits.

    It gives the appearance they were (none / 0) (#3)
    by PssttCmere08 on Thu Sep 04, 2008 at 12:51:55 PM EST
    preparing for something that was bound to happen...was it based on past experience is the big question.

    I watched the arrest of Amy Goodman and her crew for Democracy NOW....looked like the police were going to smack you down (literally and figuratively) whether you liked it or not...to my mind in this instance, they did not use good judgment.

    Intentional acts (none / 0) (#4)
    by Yet another guy named Patrick on Thu Sep 04, 2008 at 12:58:53 PM EST
    Steve M is correct that in general one cannot insure oneself against intentional torts, but there are enough exceptions to this rule that in some areas they almost swallow it.  For instance, your own homeowners insurance policy likely contains a provision covering libel or slander, both intentional torts, and most state courts honor that specific coverage even against the policy's general exclusion against intentional acts, and despite the hornbook rule that one cannot insure intentional torts.

    I suspect that Steve M and I do similar things for a living, and I have represented municipalities or individual officers accused of brutality in civil suits, being retained to do so by insurers.  Of course the defense obligation is broader than the indemnity obligation, but there are policies that may cover this sort of tort.

    Of course there is so little useful information in the Strib story about what this particular policy actually says, and what Minnesota law on the topic is, that it's all but useless. Of course that's the problem with most journalistic writing on law, and insurance for that matter.

    I agree.... (none / 0) (#5)
    by kdog on Thu Sep 04, 2008 at 01:00:07 PM EST
    the "f*ck it, we're insured, pound on that suspect" effect could arise from such a policy.

    Maybe so , kdog, (none / 0) (#8)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Thu Sep 04, 2008 at 01:18:04 PM EST
    but the officers themselves are not covered by this insurance.

    Even if they were - and they're not - they are still subject to the same disciplinary actions by the dept., like getting fired, etc., that they were subject to absent the ins. policy.


    Perhaps (none / 0) (#9)
    by Mr Natural on Thu Sep 04, 2008 at 01:21:23 PM EST
    the only brake on our society's descent into authoritarianism will be the rising costs of insurance.

    The rates will rise.


    Insured Brutality (none / 0) (#10)
    by Doc Rock on Thu Sep 04, 2008 at 01:26:33 PM EST
    What about criminal conspiracy to deprive individuals of their civil rights?  

    Like Outsourcing Responsibility... (none / 0) (#11)
    by Mr Natural on Thu Sep 04, 2008 at 01:28:13 PM EST
    is how this appears.

    It seems to me... (none / 0) (#12)
    by Jerrymcl89 on Thu Sep 04, 2008 at 01:36:27 PM EST
    ... that if the GOP is paying the insurance, it's essentially hiring the police to brutalize people. I don't necessarily think it's wrong for the city to carry insurance against brutality judgements, but it should have to pay for that insurance itself.

    Hit men and contract crimes (none / 0) (#17)
    by low tech cyclist on Sat Sep 20, 2008 at 10:00:27 AM EST
    If I pay a hit man to break someone's kneecap, I'm just as criminally liable for the crime as the hit man is.

    Gotta wonder if a similar theory could be applied to sue the RNC here.


    not really (none / 0) (#13)
    by manish on Thu Sep 04, 2008 at 02:07:09 PM EST
    Of course, some municipalities routinely insure themselves against police misconduct. Should such insurance agreements be prohibited as a matter of public policy?

    Speaking as a former actuary...

    This can be positive to.  First off, insurance doesn't absolve a police officer from being held accountable for their actions.  They are still subject to being disciplined and what not regardless of the payout.

    The other point is that municipalities with bad records of police misconduct will get higher premiums.  Police departments with better records will get better premiums.  A city looking at its costs will see their police insurance go higher and look to cut its cost.

    Remember that insurance companies aren't charities.  They will look at each line of business and each customer and expect to make money.  Insurers are tolerant of loses in a given year or two (i.e. hurricane insurers lost money when Katrina hit), but not over the long term.

    If the police misconduct line of business is losing money, they will increase premiums.  If a particular city is losing money for them, they will hike the premiums of that city.  At the end of the day, for smaller cities, this kind of insurance ensures they don't go bankrupt if they get hit with an expensive police misconduct case (similar to making sure you aren't wiped out financially if your home catches fire).  

    For larger cities that get these cases all the time, insurance has more of an effect of smoothing out the annual cost of these cases such that over a longer period of time, the cost of insurance is equal to the cost of claims plus insurer costs and a profit margin.  This means that the city budget has a fairly stable line item rather than varying wildly year-by-year.

    "Weaponized" urine??? (none / 0) (#14)
    by jawbone on Thu Sep 04, 2008 at 04:08:30 PM EST
    National Lawyers Guild reponds to charges of buckets of "weaponized" urine (it's one, and from an apt not connected with the house where the toilet wasn't working or there wasn't one).

    Good grief! Boys with toys had to make raids?

    Via Avedon's Sideshow.

    Can the police actually do this? Read description (none / 0) (#16)
    by jawbone on Thu Sep 04, 2008 at 08:46:22 PM EST
    of being detained and information collected, then no charges after everyone told they were being arrested for felony incitement to riot.

    The funneling and corraling was very similar to what was done during the February '03 anti-Iraq Invasion rally: Keep giving people misinformation (instead of telling us the rally area was filled an no one was being allowed near the area, we were told to just keep going east and, for us, north. Until we were forced to halt, told to go into the street, then police formed blue line barriers and put barricades in place to eventually use horses to push us into corners of each block, and just press, press, press us together as tightly as possible. Children and some women toward the middle were screaming with fear and crying.), cut off exits, crowd them together, and intimidate them. The Twin Cities authorities had more weapons and toys to play with.

    Those detained and toyed with were told they could not come downtown for a week or they would be arrested! Is that legal? Or just more game playing?

    You WILL learn compliance! Now!

    What would the Founding Fathers and their rabble rouser followers and supporters think of this situation?

    Via Bag News Notes with must see photo--even the horses had riot masks!