Mimesis Law
22 July 2019

Could Police Reform Come From The Ballot Box?

August 24, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Minneapolis might become a test bed for police reform if a new measure before voters this November is approved. The city council initially voted 9 to 3 against it, with the city attorney stating it would be in conflict with state law. A judge disagreed with that notion and ordered it placed on the ballot. For activists from Communities United Against Police Brutality and the Committee For Professional Policing, it’s a simple idea: Make cops buy their own liability insurance, just like doctors or lawyers.

Instead of taxpayers paying for police misconduct, let cops be financially accountable for their own actions. The city can pay the base rate for coverage which helps them against claims by the police union that it violates contract terms. Individual cops would be responsible for increases resulting from their own misconduct lawsuits. Making professional liability insurance a condition of employment could result in problem cops being unable to afford insurance and financially forced out of a job.

Sounds simple right?

City councils, mayors, prosecutors are all political creatures. Holding police accountable can invoke the wrath of powerful police unions. Cops don’t have any incentive to change their ways because they’re not the ones who have to pay if they get sued for their abuse or misconduct. A measure like this could change that; rotten cops might cause an increase in everyone’s premium, forcing cops to police themselves. Watching innocent people harmed may not be enough of an incentive for a cop to stop a brother cop from engaging in violence, but money talks.

Certainly the fear of being priced out of your occupation should be enough to curtail bad behavior, but if others are affected, it’s changes the focus of the team. If you’ve ever played a team sport and coach made everyone run laps because a few teammates were screwing around, you know how long that behavior lasted. The group dynamic shifts from supporting your teammates to stopping them from making your life miserable.

Of course, not everyone thinks this is a good idea. Who wouldn’t like a simple, effective approach to solving the problem of police misconduct? Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis wouldn’t:

I always equate police work to, like, basketball. If you’re not getting any fouls, you’re not playing hard enough.

Kroll feels that:

Anybody can get in the squad car and drive around and put the blinders on, and not investigate suspicious circumstances, if you don’t do that proactive police work, your likelihood of being sued is a lot less

This sounds suspiciously familiar; a bit like the arguments against being allowed to film the police. No other institution seems to be suffering from any condition wherein their members suddenly find themselves unable to do their job properly every time there is a call for scrutiny or accountability. It’s an amazing phenomenon.

Resistance from the police can be expected but the judicially created concept of qualified immunity already stands in the way of cops being sued as individuals. This immunity protects cops from suit unless the act in question violated a “clearly established law of which a reasonable officer would be aware.”

So unless there’s already been a significant ruling on a certain kind of conduct, then the cop can’t be sued, even if it’s outrageous to any other “reasonable” human being or even if a constitutional violation actually occurred. It’s possible that qualified immunity is getting easier for cops to claim and that the threshold for claiming immunity might now be even lower since the  Supreme Court decision in Stanton v. Simms where the court stated:

There is no suggestion in this case that Officer Stanton knowingly violated the Constitution; the question is whether, in light of precedent existing at the time, he was “plainly incompetent” in entering Sims’ yard to pursue the fleeing Patrick.

How many courts are going to jump on the “plainly incompetent” bandwagon where you can only deny qualified immunity by labeling the officer in this way? That’s hard to tell only a couple years past the decision, but it doesn’t bode well.

Come November, the voters in Minneapolis can decide to begin their experiment or not. Plenty of people will be watching if the measure passes. If it does, you can be sure there will be some serious resistance because cops have long enjoyed having the tax victims pay for their mistakes and they’re not about to give that up without a fight.

4 Comments on this post.

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  • Leonard
    24 August 2016 at 9:49 am - Reply

    I believe the ballot must be included in strategies to reform police departments. For politicians, it’s always easier to talk tough and support legislation that punishes the criminal more, after all they broke the law and people respond to tat. Combine that with the power of the police unions, it’s very difficult to affect positive change in either sentencing of the convicted or modifying the behavior of police.

  • TheHawk296
    24 August 2016 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    Just like for those of us who drive cars (including cops) individual liability insurance for the popo and prosecutors should be required as a BFOQ.

    This could easily be enforced by the DoJ and other US government departments making PDs and prosecutors’ offices ineligible for government grants (including and especially the 1033 program) unless insurance is carried individually by those with law enforcement or prosecutorial authority within that department.

    Whether or not the local government pays for it or not is up to them, but my recommendation is that they should not. If the individual has to take some money out of their pocket to keep their job, that will make them more aware of their professional responsibility to the public.

    As for a s police unions go, many local, county and state governments need to grow a set of stones and push back on ridiculous contract requirements in favor of the popo, even if they need to go to court to get the contract language ruled invalid as “against public policy”.

  • Rick
    25 August 2016 at 5:15 pm - Reply

    Sounds like a great idea as long as we can throw that same net over all government employees. Conservation groups could then draw and quarter Lou’s Lerner and her fellow partisan IRS employees.

  • joseph bodden
    26 August 2016 at 11:49 am - Reply

    cops won’t like this, but then if not for the blatant murderous abuse of the ‘neverending wealth of the taxpayers’ they would not even have this problem. Karma is inexorable, relentless. Like water wearing down the rock. Like wind carving canyons. Like killer cops being hoist on their own petards. (PETARD, a crude hand thrown bomb – sometimes with short fuses resulting in early explosion, ‘hoisting’ the user on his own ‘petard’.)