Community weighs pros and cons of police liability insurance
Many professionals quite sensibly carry liability insurance. Members of the Committee for Professional Policing (CPP) filed suit August 6 to put on the November ballot a proposal that officers of the Minneapolis Police Department do so as well.
Their premise is that if cops have to literally pay for such misconduct that has cost the city $24 million since 2003 and $6.6 million just between 2012 and last year, they’ll be less prone to make such mistakes.
For some observers, this seems a sound and practical, if less dramatic, approach to the problem of police misconduct in a metropolitan area where nationally covered protests against perceived police abuse — including the deaths of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile — not only have not deterred such actions, but have been met with mass arrests of the protesters.
CPP, according their website, “are a grassroots organization advocating for professional policing on the streets of Minneapolis.” The organization took court action after a 10-3 vote by the Minneapolis City Council blocked the proposal. Hennepin County District Court Judge Susan Robiner subsequently decided against the suit, ruling that the Police Insurance Amendment should be kept off the November ballot.
Veteran activist Michelle Gross is on the CPP board and says that making the proposal law would go a long way toward rectifying matters between police and the community. “Retired St. Louis police officer Redditt Hudson has said that 15 percent of police officers will do the right thing no matter what,” she comments by email. “Fifteen percent of police officers will do the wrong thing no matter what, and 70 percent of police officers could go either way. Our measure is meant to get rid of the 15 percent who do the wrong thing and to incentivize the 70 percent to engage in good policing and avoid misconduct.
“The Police Insurance Amendment requires police officers to carry professional liability insurance,” continues Gross, “the same kind of insurance required by many professions including doctors, nurses, beauticians and plumbers. The City could pay the base rate of the insurance, but any premium increases due to misconduct would come out of the pocket of the officer that caused the increase.
“Officers who continue to engage in this conduct will eventually be priced out of the market or will become uninsurable and no longer able to work for the City. The officers who don’t engage in this conduct will have a much better working environment as a result. Police administration will have a new tool for managing their staff.”
Asked whether she’s seeing much of a positive response to the initiative being on the table for the elections, from what quarters, and, importantly, whether anyone at City Hall is on board with the idea, she answers, “While petitioning for the signatures needed to get the Police Insurance Amendment on the ballot, we found nearly universal support.
“In fact, we only needed to collect about 7,000 signatures but collected over 16,000,” she says. “Support came from all strata. People of color support this, but so do lots of White folks. Even some police officers support it.
“About the only people who don’t are the Minneapolis Police Federation and some city council members. Three city council members have been good supporters — Alondra Cano, Cam Gordon, Andrew Johnson.
“There is also a ton of interest around the country,” continues Gross. “We are in touch with groups in many locations who want help bringing a Police Insurance Amendment to their area. As we have done this work, we have been creating documentation that we will turn into a manual on how other people can do this in their areas.”
City Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden doesn’t see it as a cut-and-dried issue. Without definitively weighing in pro or con, she allows, “My vote on this was on the question of whether it was a proper subject for the ballot. I agreed with the city att
orney that it wasn’t, because it appeared there was a conflict with state law that requires cities to defend their employees.”
There are things she likes about idea of a Police Insurance Amendment and other aspects she questions. “The proposal [could] make it impossible for officers with many complaints to remain employed, increasing accountability…through a unique mechanism. I like the concept and additional oversight from an entity outside the [MPD] that would result. In general, [I favor] mechanisms to create independent community oversight.”
She has reservations, though, regarding “how this would work and potential unintended consequences. I’m not sure how the requirements for officers to purchase private professional liability insurance would work in practice and how much of a deterrent this might be to [department new-hires].
“Since police are not generally required to carry professional liability insurance, I don’t know how the “pool” would work for only Minneapolis officers. How much advantage would the private insurance industry have over the cost of insurance in this instance?”
Council Member Blong Yang (Fifth Ward) states, “The Police Liability Insurance Amendment was not a proper question for the charter. Additionally, on the merits, it would not accomplish its goals. There is no clear estimate on what it would cost to insure the MPD through individual police liability policies.
“Any (and likely all) costs would be covered by the City,” continues Yang, “which takes away the intended accountability tool of having police officers pay for some portion of their own liability insurance.”
Gross calls the city council vote to keep the Police Insurance Amendment off the ballot illegal because under MN Statute § 410, the council has a ministerial duty to place the measure on the ballot with only narrow exceptions.
A July 27 Minneapolis Star Tribune editorial calls the idea of liability insurance “wrongheaded,” adding that “[it] maybe sounds like a reasonable way to hold officers accountable, but it isn’t…
“In the cases of blatantly egregious behavior,” argued the editorial, “the city can choose not to indemnify or defend an officer for misconduct. In those cases, the officer would be left on his or her own to pay for attorneys or any court-ordered damages.”
Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis President Lt. Bob Kroll told Minnesota Public Radio, “If officers did have to carry liability coverage, they would likely become less aggressive and less effective crime fighters. What you find is officers who have a lot of complaints, a lot of lawsuits, are also those officers who are highly, highly decorated. They go hand in hand. So if you want officers to shut down because of career preservation, this is the perfect way to implement it.”
There is also the argument, made by the Star Tribune editorial as well as others, that the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis’ contract mandates the City to cover officers. Gross disputes this.
“The Police Insurance Amendment doesn’t conflict in any way with the police union, as the contract only requires what the State requires, that the City defend and indemnify police for incidents within the scope of their work, but not for misconduct,” explains Gross.
“The Police Insurance Amendment provides coverage for misconduct incidents. It will represent a new benefit for officers if the City chooses to pay the base rate. The union would negotiate that.”
In a CPP press release, Gross stated, “While City Attorney Susan Segal and Police Union boss Bob Kroll sip champagne and celebrate their ‘victory’ over the wishes of the voters, our community suffers under the weight of unchecked police brutality.”
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.