John Rappaport on Police Misconduct and the Influence of Insurers and Public Opinion

When Cops Get Sued, Can Insurers Force Reforms?

Rappaport’s research compares this rise in litigation with insurance claims against municipal police departments. Such claims are opened regardless of whether a lawsuit is filed, and because they are “closest to the bottom of the dispute-resolution pyramid,” he said, they paint a more complete picture of law enforcement practices.

And while the rate of police misconduct lawsuits have jumped in recent years, insurance claims have “gently declined,” he said.

Rappaport attributes this paradox to a change in attitudes since 2014, when two incidents of unarmed black men dying at the hands of police drummed up public outcry — first over a video of officers in New York City choking Eric Garner to death and then from the shooting of Michael Brown by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s family reached a $1.5 million settlement with the city of Ferguson, and New York City paid the Garners $5.9 million to end their wrongful death suit.

“Police behavior is not getting any worse, but people are becoming increasingly intolerant of bad police behavior,” Rappaport said. “They’re more likely to find the police have done something wrong, and they’re more likely to award high damages.”

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