Police misconduct costs taxpayers dearly | Rögner

More and more cities and counties are avoiding trials and settling with the families of those who have died at the hands of police. But have the police learned anything?

Everyone remembers George Floyd and Minneapolis, who gave the Black Lives Matter movement a name and a face. But ask Kent about Giovonn Joseph-McDade. This town settled with McDade’s family for $4.4 million. Or ask Auburn about the shooting death of Jesse Sarey and a case that has yet to go to trial, even after the officer was charged with murder. Or ask Tacoma and Pierce County about Manny Ellis after the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office settles $4 million.

The last session of the legislature challenged many of the previous legislative session’s accountability gains by police chiefs and unions. But was it a wise decision? Last year, cities and counties settled 15 misconduct and wrongful death cases for at least $34.3 million — a 146% increase from 2020 and a 363.5% increase from to 2019, according to data compiled by the Seattle Times. The cities of Washington have paid more than $100 million over the past five years to resolve lawsuits and claims over allegations of police misconduct. Almost two-thirds have been paid since the murder of George Floyd.

The more an officer misjudges a situation, the more it will cost. The police can no longer say “I feared for my life” and that is enough to avoid accountability.

There were two reasons for the move to the colonies. First, the unpredictable nature of juries. The second was the advent of video from body cameras or dash cams, or bystanders with smartphones recording police actions. Risk managers from the Association of Washington Cities, which covers about 90 small towns and police departments across the state pooling their resources, took note of the change.

In 2020, Auburn also settled a lawsuit with the family of Isaiah Obet, who was shot by Jeffrey Nelson, the same police officer who shot Jesse Sarey. Criminal charges against the Auburn officer were followed by additional charges against three Tacoma officers in the death of Manny Ellis. The last policeman arrested was later acquitted. But it’s been nearly 40 years since an officer was charged with homicide because it needed a finding of “maliciousness”, making it nearly impossible to charge an officer with murder. After seeing the video of George Floyd’s murder on evening TV news and listening to the families of others whose lives were taken by police, the public helped change the rules as criminal charges were made possible by the adoption of Initiative 940 – a citizen initiative that was able to contribute to the increase in settlements.

But from Poulsbo to Lakewood to Redmond, police continue to make errors in judgment that undermine the authority to shoot without consequences or with confidence that they are correct. Lakewood negotiated a settlement with a family in 2018 for $13.1 million, though towns had generally gone the route of trying their luck with a jury because the outcome was likely to be more favorable. But there is a cost to the lawsuit, or settlement, whether it’s conducted by the city or county or by a collective, like the Washington Cities Insurance Authority, which covers many small towns and counties. Collectives like the AWC in turn charge premiums to their members.

Either way, the taxpayer still pays the tab.

Are the police doing their job better? In Pierce County, 36 people died by homicide in 2022. And six were killed by police shootings. That doesn’t count the more than 200 other cities and counties that have police departments or sheriffs. But the question is, were the proponents of legislative accountability right two legislative sessions ago when they called for more accountability from the police? Since then, they have been vilified by naysayers and the press and accused by police chiefs and guilds of overreacting. But they may have been right to demand a higher level of accountability.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact [email protected]

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