WASHINGTON (AP) - Accusations of police misconduct have cost cities across the nation millions, and the District of Columbia, despite having a majority-black police department and a robust civilian oversight office, is no exception.
Washington paid at least $31.6 million in court judgments or settlements in 173 cases alleging police misconduct since 2005 - a sum that has been growing at an increasing rate, The Washington Post reported (https://wapo.st/2hqfU6I), citing data obtained from the Washington attorney general’s office.
Allegations of false arrests made up about 95 percent of the money distributed from those lawsuits. About 4 percent of the money was paid after plaintiffs said their civil rights had been violated.
Complaints of police misconduct cost the city a total of $2.9 million between about 2011 and 2014. During that stretch, Baltimore, which has a similar-size police force, paid $5.7 million in 102 court judgments and settlements.
Since then, the District’s payouts have risen sharply, with misconduct lawsuits costing city taxpayers at least $3.8 million in the first nine months of 2016.
Some of the lawsuits detail beatings that resulted in hospital stays. Others tell of people who had committed no crimes before contentious encounters with police landed them in jail.
In the past two fiscal years, more than two-thirds of the complaints were filed by African-Americans, who make up less than half of the city’s population.
The Office of Police Complaints received a record 1,442 requests for information about reporting misconduct this year. The actual number of complaints filed in fiscal 2016, which ended Oct. 1, was 438 - 23.7 percent less than the 574 filed in 2012.
The oversight office can interview witnesses, visit the scene of the encounter and view footage from police body cameras. They can also interview the officers involved.
“One bad incident destroys the reputation of the police department,” said Michael G. Tobin, who heads the office. “If we can improve community trust in the police department, every officer’s job will be easier.”
Matt Mahl, the president of the Washington police union, described some of the lawsuits as “frivolous.” He hopes that body cameras will protect officers against false accusations, he said.
Information from: The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com
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