The Atlantic Dives Deep Into Rappaport's Work on How Insurers Can Influence Police

How Insurance Companies Can Force Bad Cops Off the Job
Rachel B. Doyle
The Atlantic
June 10, 2017

While much attention has been paid to the issue of police misconduct —with 14 cities pursuing consent decrees with the Department of Justice—what is less well known is how liability insurers can put a private-sector spin on reform, by demanding structural changes in the police departments that they cover. In April, a paper by the University of Chicago law professor John Rappaport detailed the effects these companies have had on police forces across America.

In Wisconsin, for instance, an insurer in 2002 recommended new training and supervision of SWAT teams in the Lake Winnebago area in the aftermath of two botched drug raids. In 2010, a police chief in Rutledge, Tennessee, was fired to appease the town’s liability insurer after assault allegations were leveled against him. In many other states, police forces have been asked to adopt new policies regarding body cameras, strip searches, and use of force.

Although an outside company exerting influence on local police may not seem compatible with good governance, there are hidden advantages to insurers’ monitoring police departments and suggesting improvements. For one, insurance companies are apolitical. “I think the debates about policing have become so fraught and so inflammatory,” Rappaport told me. “To have this big, well-heeled institution saying, ‘We’re not interested in that debate, we just want to get those numbers down’—it can make reform more palatable because it takes the electricity out.”

Faculty: 
John Rappaport