Nearly $1 billion has been paid over the past decade to resolve claims against the nation's largest police department, according to an investigation by The Associated Press. Some smaller departments also shell out tens of millions a year in payouts, but New York's spending on police claims dwarfs that of any other U.S. city.
Taxpayers foot the bill — New York officials say the payments cost less than insurance would, and officers themselves don't usually bear personal responsibility.
The $964 million in payouts covers everything from brutality cases to patrol-car wrecks to stationhouse accidents, and it includes settlements and trial awards. Some police officers have been sued again and again — including one officer at least seven times on excessive force and brutality claims. Some law firms have made it their primary business to sue the city.
City lawyers call the payouts a hard-fought cost of policing a metropolis of 8.3 million people — a price officials work to minimize through officer training and discipline. And the city has prevailed in thousands of cases, including some deadly shootings.
"We're not pushovers," said Fay Leoussis, one of the city's chief lawyers.
But the city is literally paying for police mistakes without learning from them, critics say. In cases like the 50-bullet shooting, the city pays even when officers are acquitted of criminal charges and don't admit wrongdoing.
"Right now it's open season against the city. Just file a lawsuit, and you're going to get money," said City Council member Peter Vallone, who has sponsored a bill he hopes will make it impossible to pay out dubious claims. "Everyone makes out — except the taxpayer."