GUEST COLUMN: We all pick up tab for police misconduct
required to pay this enormous bill, instead the taxpayers of Denver will foot the cost. Citizens of Denver are once again in an unjust position of paying for the brutality and misconduct of police. This is not the first time that the City of Denver has settled complaints resulting from police abuse. In the last year, the Denver City Council has approved close to $1 million in payouts to settle police misconduct lawsuits.
The Denver Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety and Denver Justice Project believe that one way to mitigate taxpayers having to finance police brutality is to require departments and/or police officers to carry liability insurance. For years the Denver Justice Project has made a very clear case for this solution, and two of the task force’s recommendations demand “all law enforcement officers to carry personal liability insurance as a condition of employment.” Professor of Sociology and Senior Consultant at the Brookings Institution, Dr. Rashawn Ray, made a case specifically for police departments to carry liability insurance to ensure their culpability rather than passing it on to individual officers. Departments carrying liability insurance is not only a fiscally responsible solution, it is a just one because police brutality is a product of institutional and structural racism and white supremacy.
Another consideration is that settlements do not keep us safer. They do not create a deterrent to police violence. They do not build healthy community relationships. They do not hold police or other members of law enforcement accountable. The goal of police accountability is to keep the community safe from the people sworn to keep the community safe. The goal is public safety solutions that would minimize unnecessary interactions between law enforcement and the citizens. He has also failed to develop a comprehensive vision of what public safety means for Denver, and that lack of clarity has led to poor management in the Department of Safety.
Police Chief Paul Pazen has failed to move on the blistering report issued by the Office of Independent Monitor in any significant way. A report that was issued in December 2020. He and his office have failed to hold officers, who cost the city millions of dollars, accountable for their misconduct and abuses.
Denver City Council has thus far failed to make any meaningful moves on the 112 recommendations presented by the task force, a consortium of over 40 community organizations and community leaders. They have continued to approve enormous spending for the police department without a roadmap of how the department will regain community trust. They have approved large settlements for police misconduct without requiring basic oversight and accountability.
We call on city leaders to transform this victory into a greater opportunity to heal the community and to protect citizens from harm at the hands of police. We can do this by making the concrete change to require departments and/or police officers to carry liability insurance. If a $14.5 million verdict, national embarrassment, and public outrage is not enough to motivate us to implement reasonable changes that the community is calling on, what will? How much will it cost for us to do what is right?
Dr. Robert Davis is project coordinator for the Denver Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety. Dr. Aisha Rios is a member of the Denver Task Force to Reimagine Policing and Public Safety as well as a social scientist and community organizer. Alex Landau is director of community relations for the Denver Justice Project.
Requiring liability insurance would:
1. Remove the burden of compensation for violence from Denver taxpayers and place it on the individual officer/s or departments responsible. These are monetary amounts that could be paid out in other ways saving taxpayer dollars for other equitable city essentials.
2. Ensure a level of protection of taxpayer dollars when it comes to police abuse cases. Currently, Denver is on track to award over $30 million paying out cases related to law enforcement violence over a 10-year period.
3. Over time, filter out officers who are too problematic to be insured, which makes us as a community safer and removes officers from the department who are a liability.