There’s so much talk today about “defunding the police.” The sound bite has morphed into many different interpretations – ranging from the reallocation of funds to dissolving entire police forces and rebuilding them from the ground up. I have a different idea: Let’s require police officers to carry liability insurance.
This idea is in line with many professions required to carry liability insurance before performing their duties. There is malpractice insurance for physicians, professional liability insurance for attorneys, even ‘errors & omissions’ insurance for insurance companies, to name a few. What I’m proposing is not new. Northeastern School of Law Professor Deborah Ramirez co-authored an extensive report exploring this notion following the Eric Garner killing in 2014. Ramirez concludes her comprehensive essay with the following:
“Insurance companies are well-positioned to perform this risk assessment and to set premiums in such a way that the most dangerous police, the few but foul “bad apples,” are priced out of the profession all together. The time for a full embrace of this idea has come.”
Now, it is 2020. Following the summer of protests and renewed interest in policing that has scarred the year, this notion has begun to receive new interest. The policing of police and the determination of “fit for service” would be shifted to the private sector, the insurance industry. Underwriters, actuaries, and other people in the insurance system would evaluate an officer’s insurability and their serviceability. This determination would be independent and not rest within law enforcement departments or the District Attorney’s office. Assessing risk is what insurance companies do regularly. The risk assessments they prepare determine the insurability for all sorts of perils, from auto, life, and property insurance, to name a few. Enlist the insurance experts to develop the analysis and algorithms for determining the level of risk each officer poses.
An officer’s bad behavior and poor record would determine the risk they pose. The officer that killed Eric Garner had 17 complaints filed against him – eight of which were deemed substantiated by the New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB). Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer responsible for killing George Floyd, had 18 formal complaints filed against him in 19 years. Under the risk rating model, these officers may have been priced out of their jobs long before killing these black men.
Our police officers are not paid like medical doctors or attorneys; therefore, we would need to consider the financial burden this poses. Officers would have the opportunity to reduce the premiums they pay based upon various factors, including merit, time on the force, completion of training programs, etc. Police unions or precincts can make up shortfalls if they want to keep a “high risk” officer on the force. These premiums can weigh based upon the risk each individual officer poses. A desk officer’s premium would be much lower than the premiums paid by a beat cop. Cops can lower their premiums by accepting more risks themselves (e.g., a higher deductible.) Perhaps officers gain a base salary increase upon enrolling in liability insurance. The department can cover the base premium for an initial period, after which the insurance carriers will have enough data to assess risk and determine the rating and compensation for each covered officer going forward. A byproduct of this proposal is that we would create a host of new job opportunities. We would need to employ thousands of actuaries, underwriters, brokers, adjusters, processors, lawyers, investigators, trainers, and more.
Under this model, municipalities will no longer be solely on the hook for paying out substantial civil settlements on behalf of cops that have acted up. In a 2018 article in the New York Post, the Post noted that New York City spent $384 million on settlements for police misconduct cases over the preceding five years. The insurance coverage carried by municipalities would shift to become an excess layer over the primary policeman’s policy. For example, the police officer’s professional liability would cover the first 5-10 million dollars. The city’s insurance would only kick in for those settlements that exceeded the primary limit of coverage. For more than half of the payments cited above, almost 6,000 were for less than $25,000 each. Shifting the burden for paying out settlements from the public coffers to the insurance industry would lower the city’s administrative tasks and reduce the monetary cost taxpayers bear. Anyone who has ever endured an insurance claim knows that insurance companies do not like paying out. However, they will make a thorough investigation to determine if a payout is valid and justified.
Police officers are entrusted to serve and protect, but we have witnessed how some respond with deadly force all too often. Trained and trusted professionals across a vast majority of industries carry liability insurance. It should be no different for our policemen. If we make our officers enroll in liability insurance, we shift the burden of liability to the officers themselves for their conduct. In July, New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi introduced Senate Bill S8676, which requires police officers to carry liability insurance for the duration of their careers. This bill is currently in committee, but it may pave the way for similar laws across the country on this issue. I believe insuring police officers will minimize the cases of misconduct and the use of force unjustifiably. Bad cops will be forced out or reassigned to administrative roles. This will save lives and rebuild the lost trust in our much-needed law enforcement system.