Police insurance doesn’t solve the problem

Requiring individual officer liability insurance still fails to address many underlying issues.

by Jasper Johnson

Advocates of police reform are pushing for a ballot measure that would require Minneapolis police officers to carry liability insurance. 

Similar to how car accidents raise your insurance premiums, misconduct would raise the cost of an officer’s insurance and would essentially price bad cops out of the force. 

While this may seem like a simple, creative way to deal with rampant police misconduct, it fails to address the underlying pressures of a culture where punishment is not enforced and would create further tensions among police.

In professions ranging from medicine to accounting, it’s easy to get hit with lawsuits over malpractice. To protect themselves, professionals in these fields choose to purchase individual liability insurance to cover the cost of legal fees. 

In areas of heightened political protest, officers often appeal for liability insurance. 

The link between an officer’s reckless behavior and their worry over ensuing insurance implications is tenuous at best.

I highly doubt that an officer making decisions in flight-or-fight scenarios would begin to contemplate their insurance premiums.

The long-term pricing-out model in which premiums continually rise thus eventually forcing rogue cops out of the department — another supposed benefit of the insurance measure — is flawed because it overstates the impact of insurance premiums. 

It is unlikely that paying increased insurance premiums would be consequential enough to force officers out of the market.

The provisional amendment is also vaguely worded and logistically inauspicious. There is no system in place to address the “base rate” that may be reimbursed by the city. For example, some officers who consistently work in high-crime areas may be more likely to face lawsuits, regardless of wrongdoing. 

It is indisputable that police departments need to hold officers accountable for their actions. Some have suggested that police must be required to live in the communities they serve; others suggest officers wear body cameras. There are merits to assessing financial risk; however, individual liability insurance is not the most viable option.

One solution would be requiring cities to hire actuarial contractors, who would draft yearly reports on police departments and calculate each officer’s financial risk. The contractor’s findings would then be presented to the heads of internal affairs or city councils. 

In the end, insurance models are oversimplified and present idealized ways to address police misconduct. Yes, police unions command unjust influence, and oftentimes cities end up paying for officer misconduct. But to address this, it would be more effective to compile actuarial reports on officer risks rather than rely on finances to price cops out of existence.