Are insurance companies the answer to police reform?
by Lyle Adriano |
Insurance companies can help keep law enforcement personnel in line—that was the idea posited in a recent report on National Public Radio.
With issues of police brutality and abuse sprouting across America, the reformation of the country’s police forces has been seriously considered. The government, however, is limited to what it can do to change the agencies for the better.
The article cities research from University of Chicago assistant law professor John Rappaport, who found that insurers were actively trying to limit the liability of the police departments they cover.
"One of the first things I found was this pamphlet from Travelers Insurance about how to do a strip search, and I just thought people in my world have no idea that this stuff is out there and it's really fascinating," said Rappaport.
By coming across similar material on the Internet, Rappaport realized that police departments typically do not feel the financial pain of a lawsuit. When a lawsuit is filed against an officer for his or her actions, neither the officer’s nor his or her department’s money is at stake.
On the hand, if the city has liability insurance, the insurer instead will be on the receiving end of the burden and would do something to lessen the risk.
"They look for ways to push police departments in a direction of reduced risk," Rappaport reasoned.
It has been observed that non-profit insurance pools—particularly those in the Western states—have been the most “hands-on” when it came to providing police departments with support and educational information, such as the latest court precedents on the use of force and the like. Some of these insurers have even gone out their way to pay for the police departments’ special training.
Another law professor featured in the article, Joanna Schwartz of UCLA, agrees with Rappaport that “insurers can play the role of an honest broker to force a city to learn from its police department's mistakes.”
"They are highly motivated to reform because it affects their bottom line, and they're not constrained by any of the political counterforces that could prevent the city council or mayor from pushing hard on a law enforcement agency to reform," Schwartz remarked.