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Berkeley Should Implement Police Liability Insurance to Ensure Accountability

If you were engaging in an endeavor that might cause physical or financial damages, you would be required by law to purchase insurance. As a partial solution to issues of police accountability, many have suggested mandating a similar type of insurance called liability insurance. Liability insurance holds the insurer responsible for damages caused by the purchaser, including lawsuits filed against the client, in exchange for them paying a premium, calculated based on their previous record. This extra price for past damages is what makes liability insurance useful as a cautionary device. For example, with auto insurance, if thoughtless driving is the cause of one’s accidents, the insurer will raise their premiums, resulting in the driver perhaps not being able to afford to drive dangerously anymore. With the truly shameful incidents of police violence in mind, people have pushed for this liability insurance to be required for policing, too. 

Millions of dollars a year are spent by taxpayers to cover the cost of lawsuits regarding police misconduct and brutality — money that many are coming to believe would be far better off spent elsewhere. Police should be made to pay for their crimes with their own money, or their department’s own money. As of now, the lawsuits directed at many police departments around the country are paid for by the city, the state, and ultimately the taxpaying citizens, out of their city’s general funds. If this duty was shifted back on the perpetrators, we might see them hold more responsibility for their actions, and suffer more of a cost for miscarriages of justice. This policing system has been suggested by New York and Minnesota legislature, aiming to counteract the swells in police violence around the country, and in those states specifically. According to New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, a major advocate for the bill, “The purpose of this bill is to establish a financial disincentive for police misconduct and create accountability for abhorrent behavior.” 

Those against liability insurance for police cry foul at a private company’s infringement on a public service. Proponents of having the government’s taxes continue to cover the costs of law enforcement’s misconduct use the police department’s status as public servants as protection. Public servants or not, there is no denying that $300 million for police misconduct in 2019 is an unallowable number. If the insurance companies that manage the liabilities of policing departments are chosen impartially by mayors or governors, then arguments that the government needs to be involved lose their steam. Besides, some amount of administrative power over the insurers would go a long way in making sure that the companies are not passive in their moderation of policing. The insurance companies need to know that they are not merely business partners with the police departments, but active regulators in their behavior.

As the nation continues to reckon with the horrible state of its policing systems, liability insurance is coming more prominently into the picture as a method of police reform. Berkeley has not been a city to shy away from innovative systems of holding police accountable, and it should not shy away from this one. Police liability offers a new, powerful way to hold police accountable for their actions, a goal which needs to be achieved now more than ever.