Virginia’s Kaine, Beyer want to know how much money taxpayers spend on police misconduct

As the nation marks the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death in police custody Tuesday, two Virginia members of Congress are calling for more information on how much taxpayer money is spent on police misconduct lawsuits.

In a CNBC op-ed, Rep. Don Beyer and Sen. Tim Kaine said little is known about the exact cost to taxpayers.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” the lawmakers wrote. “We need to measure the problem as much as possible, so we can manage it in a way that helps save lives — the most important goal — and taxpayer dollars.”

While it was widely publicized that the settlement in the Floyd case was $27 million in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Beyer and Kaine noted that municipalities often settle such lawsuits in secret to avoid controversy.

They introduced legislation that would create a national database requiring federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to report to the Department of Justice the amount they spend annually on police misconduct judgments and settlements.

Beyer and Kaine said that in some cases, the money taxpayers spend on police misconduct has the potential to defund other municipal services.

The two wrote:

Typically, taxpayers pay for police misconduct judgments and settlements in one of three ways. If their municipality uses liability insurance (typical of smaller municipalities), they pay for them indirectly in the form of premiums. If their municipality uses money from a general or dedicated fund (typical of larger municipalities), then they pay for them directly. The same goes if their municipality issues a bond. Bonds are particularly common for large judgments or settlements that exceed insurer liabilities or the capacity of general or dedicated funds and often result in taxpayers paying nearly double because the city or county must pay fees to financial institutions and interest to investors.”

The legislation is separate from the broader “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act” that would implement a number of police reform measures including banning chokeholds, prohibiting no-knock raids and creating a national registry for officers who are disciplined for serious misconduct.

The House approved the sweeping overhaul earlier this year, but it faces stiff resistance from Republicans in the closely divided Senate.

One key debate has been whether to allow individual police officers to be sued over their actions, changing the so-called qualified immunity protections for law enforcement. Republicans largely object to that approach and prefer to hold the officers’ employers responsible.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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