Minneapolis Police to Carry Liability Insurance

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Introduction

While the rates of police violence continue to rise, only a few locations around the United States are proposing any real change. A Minnesota activist group is advocating for police to carry liability insurance, of which they would be required to pay overages based on misconduct. This is a unique approach to the consistent violence police culture allows, and may represent a positive turning point for how this issue is managed. Police are nonplussed and offended as they usually appear to be when discussing the permissive nature of violence against citizens. In November the results of this violent summer will be seen.

Making Change

The people of Minnesota are very engaged in their government, which has enabled them to elect representatives who respond often to their desires. Due to the concern of increasing police violence, an activist group called Committee for Professional Policing are addressing one of the reasons police do not hold themselves accountable for misconduct-they do not pay the bills (Du). When there is a fine or lawsuit against a police person for misconduct it is the taxpayers who not only foot the bill of the fine, but also pay for that police person’s time off. This is nearly an encouragement for violence in that it creates a paid vacation. 

Since 2010, Minnesotan taxpayer have paid $11.8 million dollars in dues for police misconduct. Committee for Professional Policing has proposed that like plumber and doctors individual police would be required to carry and pay for their own liability insurance (Du). This is a novel approach, hitting the police where it would hurt-in their wallets:

The hope is that if a private insurer sees that an officer has 50 or 60 complaints and has cost the city millions of dollars over the course of his career, the insurer would ultimately refuse to cover that cop. An uninsured cop is an unemployable cop. (Du)

This is the out of the box thinking that Minnesotan politics has come to be known for nationwide. Committee for Professional Policing spokesman Cole Yates emphasizes, “It’s going to make Minneapolis a safer place to live because people are not going to have to interact with officers who aren’t held accountable to their actions, and they act knowing that” (Du). The issue of permissiveness of violence in police culture around the nation is one of the main reasons it continues to rise. This conflict of interests in the police system begs the question “Who’s watching the Watchmen?”

Although recent police violence and public protest in Minnesota has caught the eye of a beleaguered nation, this initiative has been in the works for years. The first attempt Committee for Professional Policing made “to collect signatures, they got to 3,000 before their offices in the Walker Church burned down in an unexplained fire. When the city rewrote its entire constitution in plain language in 2013, they had to start from scratch again” (Du). As violence grew the job of gathering signatures became easier, and they currently have over 12,000 signatures which will enable it to be put on the ballot this November. However, analysts are still attempting to determine if the statue would conflict with state law (Du).

While there are some who claim this approach would punish good cops, the initiative is meant for those few officers who have a consistent record of misconduct. It must be emphasized that if the police culture would have removed or punished these officers themselves the public would not be forced to take action. Yates emphasizes this; There are a lot of complaints that are unfounded and the officer is not in the wrong, I will grant that…This is really intended for a small handful of rogue officers. An insurance provider will look at an officer like police union president Bob Kroll and say there’s no way we’re going to a guy like that, a man with that kind of record. (Du)

Activists are becoming highly specific in their approach, but sadly that is relatively easy to do with the large increases in police violence. Member of Committee for Professional Policing, Dave Bicking, comments, “We have one officer [in Minneapolis] who's had five significant settlements against him just in a year and a half…Someone like that could never, ever buy insurance. They'd have to charge him $60[000]-$70,000 a year. That officer would be gone” (Kaste). This type of data offers the most convincing case for the ballot measure to pass. The most consistently dangerous officers would be forced out, and this would send a strong message that violence is no longer going unpunished. 

One element of this proposal is that the city (the taxpayer) will pay the base rate for insurance, but the overages would be on the officer to pay. That is a sound compromise, but may not be as effective as having the police pay for it all themselves. Committee for Professional Policing is going head to head with Minneapolis police union leader Bob Kroll on this, who they (and many others) claim is a racist. Kroll replied to this unruffled, calling the group naïve, and that “Our labor contract provides that the city will insure us…They can get all the signatures they need to get on the ballot, they can have every American sign for it, and it’s not going to change our labor agreement” (Du). However, this statement was before the recent outbursts of violence due to the Castile murder, and the subsequent protests.

Kroll’s overconfidence may be uncalled for, and he may be in for a surprise in November, for Minnesotans are great at remembering instances like this summer. Kroll says the only way he would consider it is if the police receive massive wage increases to cover it, but that entirely defeats the purpose of the initiative. Committee for Professional Policing’s next move may have to be the concerted effort to oust Kroll from his blocking position. His comments have become increasingly inflammatory and unrealistic. Such as, The way things are going in Minneapolis, what if they made it illegal to be police? That would be the next thing…What if they made it illegal for police to ever get a raise? What if they made it illegal for the police officers to carry guns? All this is crazy stuff begin with. It’s really nutjob crazy stuff to even consider. (Du)

These types of reactionary comments are not helping Kroll’s case. He also said, “such a policy would prompt officers to interact less with the public, for fear of financial repercussions” (Golden). It is incredible that a person in public office has the confidence to make veiled threats that if they are held accountable they may choose not to do the job the taxpayers pay them to do. This, and nearly everything Kroll says, is a sobering example of how permissive cultures grow out of control.

However, it has been hard to make a case against police violence for some time. This has been because real “Statistics about police brutality [are] not collected by the police. No cities keep this data in any real way. The FBI is mandated to keep this data, but no one really does it” (Ballotpedia). However, due to the increase in social connectivity of the Internet citizens are able to expose, connect, and organize on this issue more readily. Also, in response to this lack, civilian activists (with the help of The Washington Post 1) are now starting to keep all the records they can in order to build a reliable case against the most grievous agencies. The police have not been amenable to the discussion (Hassan). 

Community Support

Communities United Against Police Brutality is working in support of Committee for Professional Policing, and the movement is drawing more support all the time. Together they are addressing the fact that the city abolished the Civilian Review Authority, which gave citizens the means to channel their complaints (Guente). While the authority never had the teeth to do the job, its absence is yet another reminder of the permissive support structure for police violence. As a result, Now, the only option you have is to go to the police to complain about the police. This has resulted in hundreds of complaints being virtually ignored and Minneapolis cops having free reign to brutalize people with impunity. At the same time, the legislature passed a law criminalizing so-called false reporting of police brutality, making it extremely dangerous to complain about. 

This is a dangerous lapse of accountability which may be one of the reasons violence has escalated every year since the Civilian Review Authority was closed. This has led to community mobilization in largely minority neighborhoods where racist brutality is most readily experienced (Lambert). As a result of the total lack of faith in the justice system as experienced by minorities in Minnesota, activist groups are working overtime to prepare the populace to withstand such injustice;

[Communities United Against Police Brutality] hold ‘train the trainer’ classes so people can learn how to teach their neighbors and friends about their rights and how to interact safely with police. People can organize copwatch groups in their neighborhoods. They can help provide advocacy for people dealing with the effects of police brutality. They can plan protests and other political actions to put pressure on the politicians. They can help us get our measure on the ballot to increase police accountability. (Guente)

It is truly sad that so many measures are being initiated by citizens in protection of their government when it should be the other way around. 

Conclusion

Police violence in America is at an all-time, sparking violence and unrest which is only increasing the tension. Something must be done to hold the police accountable for how they treat civilians before trust is completely eroded. Activists in Minnesota have proposed all Minneapolis police officers be required to carry liability insurance so that they would be financially punished for repeated offenses. The most violent cops would be forced out of the force, while the overall message would be a new season of accountability. There has been no discussion between victims, activists, and the police. The police community insists they are simply doing their job, and if they are held accountable to do it better they may just stop doing it altogether. The palpability of the threats do not instill faith in the system.

Notes

1: The Washington Post has begun to keep detailed records of police brutality, found here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/pb/policeshootings/

Works Cited

Ballotpedia. “City of Minneapolis Police Personal Insurance Charter Amendment (2016).” Ballotpedia.org, 2016. Retrieved from: https://ballotpedia.org/City_of_Minneapolis_Police_Personal_Insurance_Charter_Amendment_(2016)

Du, Susan. “Group wants Minneapolis police to carry liability insurance.” City Pages, 7 Apr. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.citypages.com/news/group-wants-minneapolis-police-to-pay-for-their-own-liability-insurance-8182566

Golden, Erin. “Proposed Minneapolis ballot item would require police to carry insurance.” Star Tribune, 1 Jun. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.startribune.com/proposed-minneapolis-ballot-item-would-require-police-to-carry-insurance/381597781/

Guente. “This Is Not a Think Piece: Turning Outrage into Action from Ferguson to the Twin Cities.” Guante.info, 27 Aug. 2014. Retrieved from: http://www.guante.info/2014/08/this-is-not-think-piece-turning-outrage_27.html

Hassan, Jeffrey A. “Community Recommends Solutions In Jamar Clark Case.” Insight News, 18 Apr. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.insightnews.com/2016/04/18/community-recommends-solutions-in-jamar-clark-case/

Kaste, Martin. “To Change Police Practices, A Push For Liability Insurance In Minneapolis.” NPR, 27 Jun. 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/2016/06/27/483420607/to-stop-police-lawsuits-reformers-want-officers-to-get-insurance

Lambert, Brian. “Why did sports columnists largely sit out the Lynx/Kroll episode?” Minn Post, 15 Jul. 2016. Retrieved from: https://www.minnpost.com/media/2016/07/why-did-sports-columnists-largely-sit-out-lynxkroll-episode