False arrests, violations of civil rights, and excessive violence are just a handful of allegations made by the thousands against police departments across the country each year.
Protesters and law enforcement officers clashed amid massive protests in the weeks after George Floyd's death in police custody.
As a result, some officials in cities from Atlanta to Philadelphia to Buffalo have been disciplined for alleged wrongdoing against demonstrators and opened the door to the possibility of innumerable civil lawsuits, legal experts told ABC News.
While data shows that claims against the police in cities with the country's largest police force have declined, they still cost taxpayers over $ 300 million in fiscal 2019. Proponents say taxpayers' money could be better spent.
Police watch hundreds of protesters march in downtown Brooklyn regarding the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in New York City on June 5, 2020.
Police watch hundreds of protesters march in downtown Brooklyn regarding the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in New York City on June 5, 2020.undefined Spencer Platt / Getty Images
"Taxpayers will bear the brunt of the cost of police brutality," said Sanford Rubenstein, a New York-based civil lawyer whose law firm has been representing families and victims of police brutality and collecting millions of settlements for over 35 years.
The New York City Police Department is the largest police force in the country with over 36,000 members serving a city of 8.3 million people.
During the 2019 fiscal year, the city paid out $ 175.9 million in civil judgments and claims for police lawsuits – without comparison to the city auditor's office, Nick Paolucci, a spokesman for the city's legal department – told the city's defense agency and their employees in lawsuits.
In 2019, the city auditor's office unveiled nearly $ 4 million in settlements for nearly 200 civil rights disputes and police actions involving excessive violence. This comes from data that ABC News had received for settlements between 2014 and 2019.
A protester holds a sign saying "Justice is not against white" in front of the French police at Place de la Concorde in Paris on June 6, 2020 as part of the global protests against racism and police brutality.
A protester holds a sign saying "Justice is not against white" in front of the French police at Place de la Concorde in Paris on June 6, 2020 as part of the global protests against racism and police brutality.undefined Anne-christine Poujoulat / AFP via Getty Images
"In New York City, at least, it's not like the police budget. The litigation budgets … come from the city, and that's tax money," said Jennvine Wong, lawyer for the Cop Accountability Project, Special of the Legal Aid Society Process department.
Government officials, such as the NYPD, have immunity from contributing to an agreement or judgment if brought up in a lawsuit alleging misconduct while the employee is at work.
The Mayor's Administration and Budget Office provides funds to report claims and lawsuits against New York City each fiscal year – $ 733 million in 2020 and $ 697 million in 2019 – for withdrawals. In cases where a government employee is asked to contribute to a payout, the amount is very small, according to legal experts.
For the 2021 financial year, 6 cents of each dollar will be used for various expenses, including "labor reserve, general reserve, judgments and claims, MTA subsidies and other contractual services", according to the city's executive budget from the OMB.
Demonstrators march Pennsylvania Ave during a protest against police brutality and racism in Washington on June 6, 2020.
Demonstrators march Pennsylvania Ave during a protest against police brutality and racism in Washington on June 6, 2020.undefined Drew Angerer / Getty Images
"This is a lot of money that we pay out for the misconduct of many police officers who are still allowed – many, not all – to remain on the job or who are probably not even disciplined," said Wong.
Wong said while talks about police relief continue, consideration should be given to providing funding for public health crises such as "gun violence, poverty, drug addiction and more effective treatment". The funds would then be used to target community root-cause problems and could result in "less police work initially," she said.
In a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio on June 4, comptroller Scott Stringer urged that $ 1.1 billion be removed from the NYPD budget over the next four years, and due to the alleged $ 1.3 billion since 2014 investing in the community misconduct by the police.
Deanna Nollette, Seattle deputy chief of police, and Adrian Diaz, deputy chief of police, are prevented by protesters from entering the newly created Capitol Hill (CHAZ) autonomous zone in Seattle on June 11, 2020.
Deanna Nollette, Seattle deputy chief of police, and Adrian Diaz, deputy chief of police, are prevented by protesters from entering the newly created Capitol Hill (CHAZ) autonomous zone in Seattle on June 11, 2020.undefined Jason Redmond / AFP via Getty Images
"Aggressive action to identify officers and hold them accountable for police misconduct not only saves money in future court cases, but also saves many New Yorkers the unnecessary pain and suffering that result from the unnecessary use of violence or other injuries of civil rights, "the US government letter said.
Stringer spokeswoman Hazel Crampton-Hays said in a statement to ABC News that she agrees that "New York City needs to invest more in underserved communities most at risk of violence and structural racism."
A sign painted by protesters labeled "Defund the Police" is next to a sign reading "Black Lives Matter" on 16th Street near the White House in Washington, DC on June 7, 2020, appropriate.
A sign painted by protesters labeled "Defund the Police" is next to a sign reading "Black Lives Matter" on 16th Street near the White House in Washington, DC on June 7, 2020, appropriate.undefined Joshua Roberts / Reuters
For several years, lawyers and lawmakers have been trying to change laws that protect government officials and police officers from discipline.
New York State lawmakers succeeded on June 9 in lifting section 50-A, which prevented a police official's personal files from being released. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation on Friday.
The following day, attorney Ben Crump spoke to the House Justice Committee about the effects of "qualified immunity", which prevents an individual from filing a lawsuit against police officers unless they are found to have violated a federal law. The Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to review qualified immunity laws.
"Immunity creates impunity for this police force," said Crump, who represents several families of black people who died in police encounters, including Floyd and Breonna Taylor, who were shot by the police during a "no-knock" robbery . "If they have this qualified immunity, we don't see any accountability."
Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump speaks during a hearing of the House Justice Committee on proposed changes to police practices and accountability on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 10, 2020.
Civil rights lawyer Ben Crump speaks during a hearing of the House Justice Committee on proposed changes to police practices and accountability on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 10, 2020.undefined Graeme Jennings / AP photo
Filing claims against the NYPD at the city's tax advisor's office in fiscal 2019 cost taxpayers $ 220.1 million, compared to $ 237.4 million last year, and a 35% decrease from 338.2 USD million paid in 2017 report released on Friday. Of these 5,848 applications submitted, 61% concerned "police measures" such as wrongful arrest or detention, excessive violence or personal injury, or lack of police protection.
Rubenstein, however, believes that "given the recent episode of police brutality during the pandemic, settling expected court cases will be quite a hassle."
Here's a look at claims in other cities with the country's largest police forces:
Lawsuits against law enforcement agencies have increased in Los Angeles, with more than 4 million residents, in the past three financial years, according to the city's chief executive risk management annual report, released in January.
Of the 606 applications filed in 2018-2019, 539 were directed against the Sheriff's Office of Los Angeles County – the authoritative arm of several law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department. According to the county counsel's annual litigation report, two hundred and forty-one lawsuits were dismissed without payment.
The county has earmarked $ 148.5 million, with $ 91.5 million paid to satisfy 16 judgments, including $ 16.3 million for nine lawsuits against the Sheriff's Department and 240 Compare according to the annual process cost report. "This represents an increase of 24% over the $ 73.7 million the district spent on judgments and settlements," the report said.
Of the 2018-2019 financial year, nine were filed against the Sheriff's Department and another form of law enforcement that accounted for 56% of the $ 60.4 million expense – a 1% decrease the previous year. The county spent $ 81,485,430 on litigation costs for the sheriff's department, according to the annual litigation report.
The city has earmarked $ 19.4 million in judgments and damages / insurance for at least the past three fiscal years, according to the county's final budget.
Law enforcement liabilities accounted for 43.1% of lawsuits filed against the city in 2018-2019, according to the annual risk management report. Compared to 6.5% of law enforcement liability claims for the 2017-2018 fiscal year in which $ 40.6 million was paid by payers.
The LAPD has approximately 9,000 sworn civil servants and 3,000 civil servants, according to the agency's latest COMPSTAT report. In 2016, when the agency had registered 11,954 officials, according to the FBI's full-time staff database, the amount of law enforcement liability claims this year was 491.
A man with a protective face mask raises his fist and holds a poster in his hand as he participates in a protest against racial inequality after the death of George Floyd in Los Angeles on June 8, 2020.
A man with a protective face mask raises his fist and holds a poster in his hand as he participates in a protest against racial inequality after the death of George Floyd in Los Angeles on June 8, 2020.undefined Mike Blake / Reuters
The city increased the amount of "corporate fund" resources – operations and services such as public security, including the police department – available to cover the costs of routine comparisons and judgments.
"Revenue within the corporate fund is derived from local taxes, interstate taxes, non-tax revenue, revenue and transfers, and available resources from the previous year," according to the Chicago City's 2018 annual financial analysis.
The city has a population of over 2.7 million with a total of 13,135 law enforcement officers, including 11,954 police officers and 1,181 civilians. This emerges from the FBI's full-time law enforcement database for 2016.
Corporate funds spent an estimated $ 99.8 million on claims, refunds, judgments, and attorney fees by the end of 2018, the document said. The city's financial analysis shows that $ 45 million was spent on the same expenses in 2019.
In 2018, according to the Chicago Reporter, more than $ 85 million in taxpayers' money was used to settle police misconduct – the highest since 2011 – and a further $ 28 million to outside attorneys to defend these cases. Last year, over $ 32 million was paid to settle police lawsuits and $ 23 million to pay lawyers' fees.
Black Lives Matter protesters fight with supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump as the police attempt to end the clashes during a demonstration because the police killed George Floyd on June 6, 2020 in Huntington Beach, California.
Black Lives Matter protesters fight with supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump as the police attempt to end the clashes during a demonstration because the police killed George Floyd on June 6, 2020 in Huntington Beach, California.undefined EUGENE GARCIA / EPA via Shutterstock