Following the death of George Floyd and nationwide protests over police brutality last year, legislation was introduced in Congress to bring more publicity to police department civil settlements. The legislation would also publicize important details about misconduct allegations made against law enforcement officers. Although the bill faces uncertainty because of other congressional priorities, it has already helped bring public attention to police civil rights abuses.
Over the past decade, federal, state, and local governments have spent billions to settle police misconduct cases. These range from the dramatic – deadly shootings and beatings – to police neglect and other instances which don’t grab the headlines as often. In fact, most police settlements don’t make the news, and law enforcement agencies aren’t universally required to disclose the details of them.
This leaves taxpayers in the dark. Without reporting requirements, it’s difficult for the public to find out how much their police departments are spending to settle misconduct cases. This, in turn, makes it more difficult to determine the effects of these settlements on state and local budgets. Moreover, citizens find it difficult to learn important facts about abuse cases, such as the individuals involved and the details of disciplinary actions taken against accused officers.
That’s where the Cost of Police Misconduct Act comes in. Introduced by Rep. Don Beyer, the legislation proposes to change the status quo by creating a public, federal database to track misconduct allegations and settlements.
What Is the Cost of Police Misconduct Act?
If enacted, the legislation would set requirements for reporting police misconduct at the state and federal levels. The United States attorney general would be mandated to create a database that tracks both allegations of police misconduct, as well as civil settlements of lawsuits. Some of the details that would be collected include:
- The ethnicity, gender, and ages of all officers and individuals involved in each allegation
- What type of misconduct was reported in each matter
- Whether any disciplinary action was taken
- The dollar figure of the civil settlement or judgment in each matter
- The source of the money (e.g. police bonds)
Law enforcement agencies at the federal, state and local levels would have 120 days to gather the data and would then be required to continue sending it every month. State and local agencies that fail to comply could lose up to 10% of their federal funding. The money would be given to other agencies to spend on criminal justice efforts.
The bill has sparked debate as to whether it would help reign in abuse and bring an end to the sort of news the country saw over the last year concerning law enforcement civil rights abuses. Some activists believe that police violence is too endemic to the system to be changed by focusing more attention on police misconduct and settlements.
Rep. Beyer, for his part, welcomes discussion of his bill while pointing to its potential benefits. By shining a light on how much the government – and ultimately taxpayers – are spending to settle abuse allegations, the public will start to ask questions like: why did the police agree to this amount? How will it affect the budget and the tax rate?
Perhaps the most important question that can be asked: what’s happening with the police department that requires them to settle abuse, to begin with? In other words, why are the police engaging in misconduct?
Because of spending priorities involving coronavirus, stimulus payments, and big-ticket items like infrastructure reform, the future prospects of the Cost of Police Misconduct Act are unclear. And while constructive criticism of this particular effort can certainly be made, any progress towards greater accountability is a step in the right direction.
Here at Hale & Monico, we are doing our part to stop police misconduct. If you or a loved one suffered civil rights abuses at the hands of law enforcement, you may be entitled to monetary compensation and other remedies. Call us today to learn more.