Advocates: Minneapolis cops should face financial cost of misconduct

Turning over petition to city clerk
Dave Bicking, Michelle Gross and other members of the Committee for Professional Policing turned over their petition to the Minneapolis city clerk at City Hall on Thursday.
Brandt Williams | MPR News

Police reform advocates are calling on Minneapolis to amend the city's charter to require police officers carry professional liability insurance.

The Committee for Professional Policing on Thursday turned over 1,200 pages of signatures on a petition seeking to put the change to voters this fall, arguing that the measure would provide officers a financial incentive to avoid misconduct lawsuits and reduce police misconduct in Minneapolis.

Officers who are sued over and again for misconduct would face higher premiums in the same way insurance companies raise premiums on bad drivers, said petition drive organizer Dave Bicking.

Some law enforcement officials oppose the idea. Bicking and other backers, however, say previous efforts to increase police accountability have failed.

"We've been through federal mediation. It came and went, not much came from that," said Bicking, a former member of the police Civilian Review Board. "Dash cameras have helped, but you can see that we still have a problem," he added, noting a new state law will make most police body camera footage private.

Bicking said he hopes that if voters approve the measure in a referendum, city taxpayers will spend less on legal matters tied to police misconduct.

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According to city data and court records compiled by MPR News, the city has paid out nearly $24 million since 2003 for police misconduct suits, judgments and claims.

The city has 10 days to verify that the signatures gathered by the group are valid Minneapolis voters. City Clerk Casey Carl says following verification, the petition will go to the Charter Commission and then to the Minneapolis City Council, which may also reject the measure.

The council may keep the measure off the ballot if the proposed amendment conflicts with state law, said Susan Segal, the city's attorney. The city is bound by state law to legally defend all employees, including police officers in most cases, although there are instances when that law doesn't apply.

"We have to be convinced that the officer engaged in malfeasance, willful neglect or bad faith," said Segal. She declined to talk more about what legal guidance she'll offer the council members.

Supporters of the police insurance amendment say the city could cover the base rate for an officer's coverage, which would ensure that officers would always be covered.

Nationally, law enforcement officers are increasingly buying professional liability insurance amid worries over lawsuits, the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation's police union, recently told the Reuters news service.

Some Minneapolis police officials, however, say mandating that officers carry their own insurance is a bad idea.

If officers did have to carry liability coverage, they would likely become less aggressive and less effective crime fighters, said Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis President Lt. Bob Kroll. The city's labor agreement with the union would also prohibit the insurance requirement from going into effect, he added.

"What you find is officers who have a lot of complaints, a lot of lawsuits are also those officers who are highly, highly decorated," Kroll said. "They go hand in hand. So if you want officers to shut down because of career preservation this is the perfect way to implement it."

Correction (June 3, 2016): An earlier version of this story used the wrong term to describe the type of insurance in the proposed amendment. The story has been updated.