Dec 09 2020

Beyer Introduces First-Of-Its-Kind Legislation To Address The Cost Of Police Misconduct To Municipal Governments

Each year, cities and counties spend hundreds of millions of dollars on police misconduct judgements and settlements.

Washington, D.C.—Today, Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA), the incoming Chair of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC), introduced the Cost of Police Misconduct Act—legislation that would require federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to report to the Department of Justice how much they spend on judgements and settlements related to police misconduct. The first-of-its-kind legislation would increase transparency and accountability, saving taxpayer dollars and potentially lives.

Vice Chair Beyer:

“Most Americans have no idea how much the cities and counties they live in spend on police misconduct. You cannot manage what you do not measure. The purpose of this legislation is to measure the problem as much as possible so we can manage it in a way that not only saves lives—the most important goal—but also taxpayer dollars, which would be better spent on programs and policies that are proven to prevent crime.”

Every year cities and counties across the country spend hundreds of millions of dollars on judgments and settlements related to police misconduct—the costliest of which in many cases are civil rights violations (e.g. use of force) that result in the physical injury or death of residents.
Cities and counties typically pay for such judgements and settlements through liability insurance (typical of smaller cities), or from a general or dedicated municipal fund (typical of larger cities), or from issuing bonds. Bonds are particularly common for large judgements or settlements, which exceed insurer liabilities or the capacity of general or dedicated municipal funds, and often result in taxpayers paying nearly double the cost of the judgement or settlement because the city or county must pay fees to financial institutions and interest to investors.

One recent study found that from 2008-2017, residents of Chicago, Ill.(2010-2017), Cleveland, Ohio, Lake County, Ind., Los Angles, Calif., and Milwaukee, Wis., paid an estimated combined total of $1.73 billion in bonds ($837.8 million) and interest payments ($891 million) related to police misconduct. According to a recent NPR report, residents of Chicago alone have paid about a half billion dollars for police misconduct over the past decade. The Cost of Police Misconduct Act would create a source of comprehensive data on the size and nature of such payments to help policymakers, stakeholders, and the public understand the scope of the problem and the need for reform.

Mr. Hilary O Shelton, the Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and the Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy:

“For too long, law enforcement agencies have paid out millions upon millions of dollars in taxpayer monies to compensate for misconduct charges against mistreated Americans. This payout comes without having to officially alert the taxpayers of our Nation of the damages, liabilities, harm or in some cases even unintentional, unreasonable and reckless use of force. In too many cases these deeply disturbing actions even result in permanent disability or even death. That stops with this legislation. By requiring police officers and units to report to the public the amount of money that is being spent defending and settling misconduct and liability charges, we will be incentivizing law enforcement agents to better serve and protect the American public in a manner befitting their uniform, as well as providing the people of our nation with a more transparent understanding of how their tax money is being misspent.”

Katherine Hawkins, Senior Legal Analyst with The Constitution Project at the Project On Government Oversight (POGO):

“Though the negative impact of police misconduct and racial injustice has been evident for a long time, recent tragedies like those involving George Floyd and Breonna Taylor have poignantly highlighted how much work we still have to do. Among a wide range of other reforms, it is critical that Congress enact policies that would result in a higher quantity and quality of data around how often instances of police misconduct occur and what the true costs are of that misconduct. It will be exceedingly difficult for us to ever make evidence-based decisions around policing reform without good data. It is important to remember that police misconduct, beyond the loss of life and of trust, can result in costly legal settlements that effectively defund other vital government services at a time when municipal budgets are under huge strain."

In general, the Cost of Police Misconduct Act would require:

  1. federal law enforcement agencies, and state and local law enforcement agencies that receive federal funds under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG), to report on a monthly basis allegations of misconduct by law enforcement officers and judgements or settlements related to such misconduct, and, for each allegation and judgement or settlement reported:
    • the race, ethnicity, sex, and age of each officer and civilian involved;
    • the year in which the alleged misconduct took place;
    • the year in which the alleged misconduct was reported;
    • the type of misconduct alleged, which may include a body camera violation (whether a failure to wear or record), use of force (including type of force), a collision, racial profiling, negligence, property damage, sexual harassment or assault, false testimony, wrongful death, and wrongful imprisonment;
    • any personnel action taken by the officer involved, which may include resignation or retirement;
    • any personnel action taken by the law enforcement agency involved, which may include termination, demotion or relocation of the officer;
    • the amount paid pursuant to a judgement or settlement (and related court fees) with respect to such allegation;
    • the source of money used (e.g. general operating budget, law enforcement agency budget, bond) to pay a judgement or settlement (and related court fees); and
    • the total amount spent on all such judgements and settlements (and related court fees).
  2. the Attorney General to create and maintain an online searchable database of the information reported. 
  3. the Comptroller General to conduct a study of the information reported to determine the leading cause of such judgements and settlements and what can be done to prevent them.
  4. the Attorney General to submit a report about the aforementioned study to Congress.
  5. the Attorney General to determine the number of federal agencies that have law enforcement authority and make this information publicly available, as well as update it when needed. (As a recent DOJ IG report explains, the federal government does not know the exact number of agencies that have law enforcement authority. In order to determine if these agencies are in compliance with this law and others, the federal government needs to know how many of them exist.)

 About Congressman Beyer

Congressman Don Beyer is currently serving his third term in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Northern Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital. In addition to his role as Vice Chair of the JEC, Beyer serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Previously, Beyer served as the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia and Ambassador to Switzerland, and built a successful family business over the course of four decades.

About the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee

The U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee is Congress’s bicameral economic think tank. It was created when Congress passed the Employment Act of 1946. Under this Act, Congress established two advisory panels: the President's Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) and the JEC. Their primary tasks are to review economic conditions and to recommend improvements in economic policy. Chairmanship of the JEC alternates between the Senate and House every Congress. Currently, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) is the Chair. Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA) will be Chair in the 117th Congress.