US police officers should be required to carry their own professional liability insurance so that they have personal consequences for their actions, believes Michelle Gross, President of Communities United Against Police Brutality.
WASHINGTON, October 10 (RIA Novosti) - US police officers should be required to carry their own professional liability insurance so that they have personal consequences for their actions, believes Michelle Gross, President of Communities United Against Police Brutality.
"Our organization is working to require police officers to carry their own professional liability insurance, so that officers who engage in brutality and misconduct will have personal consequences for their actions, and so that "repeat offenders" become uninsurable and are forced out of the profession," Gross told RIA Novosti on Thursday.
He explained that the shooting of Mike Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, and subsequent uprising in Ferguson had focused renewed attention on the issue of policing, with the community proposing many new solutions.
The issue of policing in the United States is up again after Wednesday's cop-involved shooting in St. Louis, Missouri. African-American teenager Vonderrick Myers was killed by an off-duty white police officer, who also works for a security company. The incident occurred when the officer tried to make a pedestrian check. Myers reportedly ran away, shooting at the officer three times. According to the police, the officer returned the fire fearing for his life.
"This latest fatal shooting by St. Louis police continues a pattern of reckless disregard for the lives of young Black men, and provides yet another example of why police agencies cannot investigate themselves," Gross asserted, noting that an off-duty police officer unleashed a volley of 17 rounds on a young man, although witnesses claim that Myers was carrying only a sandwich.
"The continued targeting of black youth by police in St. Louis and across the country is an epidemic," Gross stressed. "The US Department of Justice must step in to stem the tide of police-on-black violence as well as police violence against other people of color, the poor and homeless, and mentally disabled."
The officer who shot and killed Myers has been placed on administrative leave, and the investigation is underway.
Members of the group Communities United Against Police Brutality (CUAPB) say ‘yes.’ The goal, members say, is to cut down on instances of police misconduct and reduce the amount of money the city of Minneapolis pays out for officer misconduct legal matters. An MPR News analysis of data from the Minneapolis city attorney’s office show that since 2003, the city has paid out nearly $21 million in police misconduct settlements, judgments and claims.
I spoke with CUAPB member Dave Bicking last month after police chief Janee Harteau announced that the officer involved in the fatal collision with a motorcyclist on May 10 of this year would face no criminal charges or discipline from the incident. Bicking handed me a flyer spelling out the case for self-insured cops.
“The city could pay the base rate of the insurance premiums, but officers would have to pay any increases in their premiums due to the their personal history. Too many claims or other evidence of risk would cost the officer extra, an effective form of discipline,” reads the flyer. “Consistently brutal cops would become uninsurable, and could therefore not continue on the Minneapolis police force.”
However, some say if police officers become more worried about getting in trouble than capturing bad guys, public safety could suffer. In 2009 I spoke to attorney Gregg Corwin for a story on police misconduct lawsuits. Corwin often represents officers who get fired or harshly disciplined.
“There’s a joke among officers: ‘You never get fired for just sitting in your car,” said Corwin.
Corwin also said unlike most other city employees, police officers often have to come in physical contact with people who don’t want to be restrained. Complaints and legal action are just part of the job.
Members of CUAPB are trying to collect 15,000 signatures to put the self-insurance question on the 2014 ballot. They’re meeting tonight at the Churchill apartment building on Marquette Ave. downtown at 6 p.m. to discuss the petition drive.
*Disclaimer: We are not legal authorities and any advice provided should be taken as informational only. Do your own research and consult with a professional.*
Despite having insurance to cover law enforcement action, Chris and his family have had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket to cover all of his expenses. He’s had to hire five separate lawyers to handle the wide variety of issues resulting from the incident. In addition to his criminal charges, the deceased’s family brought a civil suit against him for wrongful death, his insurance company sued him for filing a claim on his policy, and he’s had to retain defense and appeals lawyers in both Hawaii and Virginia. Plus, he’s had to pay for numerous flights and housing in both locations for extended periods of time–expensive items that aren’t necessarily covered by insurance.
Let’s take a few minutes to talk about insurance, lawsuits, and professional associations. Many of you in the law enforcement community may be thinking “that sucks for him, but that’s why I have liability insurance.” Well, it’s not quite that simple. Chris had professional liability insurance and was covered under his renter’s insurance for negligence/wrongful death, and they are actually costing him more money.
When the civil suit was brought against Chris for wrongful death, he filed a claim under his renter’s insurance policy to cover the expense of hiring a civil attorney. The insurance company didn’t want to pay, so they turned around and sued Chris, and he had to hire yet another attorney to fight his own insurance company! His lawyer won that suit, so the insurance company is forced to cover Chris for the wrongful death suit in Hawaii, but this policy is very limited financially. Luckily that case has been stayed and will not proceed until the criminal case is over, but the future costs of the lawsuit are still pending, and the policy will likely not be enough to cover all the expenses.
Professional liability insurance is designed to protect officers from being held personally liable for acting within the scope of their employment. It is recommended for all law enforcement officers due the nature of the job and our overly-litigious society. Over a year after the incident, Chris’ attorneys are still fighting with his professional liability insurance policy to provide coverage. At this point, they have neither declined nor agreed, but even if they do end up covering, the coverage limit of his particular policy will only reimburse up to half of what has already been invoiced by his attorneys. The limit has long been passed, and no future costs will be covered.
This is not to say that you should not have professional liability or any other type of insurance to cover you. If and when Chris’ insurance pays his claim, it’s going to help him out quite a lot–but it still won’t be nearly enough since his case is so complex. Everyone should be insured! Just make sure you’re protected to the fullest extent, know your coverages/exceptions and keep in mind the insurance company may not automatically pay your bills just because you pay theirs.
The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA) is the largest federal law enforcement professional association. At the time, Chris wasn’t a member of FLEOA, but he became one after the incident. We can’t say enough about what a difference FLEOA has made for Chris–they have supported him throughout the process, providing legal advice even before he became a member, meeting with his attorneys, writing articles about his case, using it as an example to support the Officer Safety Act of 2012, and they are continuing to lobby on Chris’ behalf. If you’re a federal law enforcement officer, it is in your best interest to join FLEOA.
That’s it for today’s lessons to be learned. We believe these are the kind of things that every officer should be aware of, and unfortunately it took our friend Chris learning the hard way to really hit it home for us. Please donate to help him keep fighting the system so that his case doesn’t set a terrible precedent for the future.
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