Mitigating Costly Excessive Force Claims
Excessive force claims are costing cities and municipalities millions of dollars each year. While the issue of police misconduct is not new, the advent of social media is helping to make this issue headline news. In this session at the PRIMA 2016 Annual Conference, presenters discussed strategies and tools that can be applied to mitigate the risk related to the use of excessive force.
- Elizabeth Capek, AIC, ARe, Munich Re America
- Catalina Sugayan, Esq., Sedgwick LLP
Police departments are encouraged to purchase body cameras and provide provide standards of use and training. There are many pros and cons associated with body cams. On one hand, they improve both citizen and police behavior because they increase accountability and transparency. They also improve evidence collection because encounters are documented. On the other hand, purchasing the cameras and training to use them is costly, there is a system requirement for storing the video footage and there is a maintenance need. In addition, privacy concerns for both
citizens and police come into play.
Other important technology that police departments may consider include vehicle-mounted cameras, license plate readers and facial recognition software.
Inadequate training is the key cause for excessive force use. Many departments do not provide proper training on how and when to use excessive force, how and when to use lethal/non-lethal weapons, and how to handle mentally-ill citizens or those experiencing a drug reaction (otherwise known as “Crisis Intervention Training” or “CIT”). These are all circumstances that require split-second decision making, so training on how to handle them is critical.
A comprehensive training program should be conducted by outside personnel and include the following elements:
- A focus on defusing incidents.
- Alternatives to lethal weapon use.
- Stipulation as to when the use of lethal weapons is appropriate.
- Concentration on community engagement.
- The importance of treating all residents with dignity and respect.
Many police departments with long histories of excessive force allegations tend to ignore situations when officers disregard internal policies and break the law. Force incidents are often not properly reported, documented, investigated or addressed with corrective measures.
Key components of an effective accountability system include:
- Appropriate training on how and when to use force.
- Comprehensive oversight of officers’ use of force.
- Consistent policies on how and when to report force.
- Thorough investigation of incidents when force was used using internal and external resources.
- Careful monitoring of incidents to address emerging problems before they result in additional harm.
How a police department communicates with the public and the media is critical in maintaining a successful relationship with the community it serves, particularly when high-profile incidents occur.
All communication surrounding an incident should be coordinated among municipal departments, timely, accurate and transparent. Improved data and record keeping enables a faster release of information to the public.