Police brutality costs lives. In New Jersey, it also costs $42 million in taxpayer funds.
Amazing investigative reporting by the Asbury Park Press across twenty articles exposed the atrocities of New Jersey police officers and the secret settlements that have kept them quiet over the past ten years. In that time period, tax dollars were used to cover up police crimes that led to 19 deaths, 131 injuries, and 7 sexual assaults.
From child molestation to career patterns of excessive violence, the Press‘ investigation series “The Shield” found that the standard response was to cover up officer’s crimes and pay massive amounts of taxpayer money to keep the stories quiet.
New Jersey is one of five states to have no professional standards for police officers. Criminal cops are able to bounce between police departments the same way abusive priests were changing parishes during the famous Spotlight investigation. Officers discharged often not only get cash payouts but promises to not disclose their criminal activity to their next department.
But this culture of spending taxpayer money to insulate and protect bad cops is far from limited to New Jersey.
Criminal behavior from police has cost Milwaukee, Wisconsin $21 million and counting. The city sets aside over $1 million in taxpayer money a year to handle police misconduct cases, and the actual annual cost far outpaces that investment in criminal cops. The city has even tried to tie these costs to the police department budget and failed.
Enfield, Connecticut is a town of about 44,000 which last year settled nine police brutality cases costing taxpayers $225,000 for a total of just over five dollars per person across only nine instances.
Cities have been paying out millions in settlements for police brutality for years, from Milwaukee and Enfield to Chicago and Baltimore, the burden for paying the bill for the atrocities of police falls on the taxpayers, which inevitably means that the victims pay to settle the cases they bring against their abusers.
The idea of the perpetrators of the violence actually being the ones to pay isn’t new. Shaun King of The Intercept (formerly at the New York Daily News) called for that change last year.
“As long as police departments are able to put the bill for their brutality on the backs of everyday people, nothing is going to change about the crisis we are facing,” King wrote.
But for now, in addition to the human cost police brutality continues to rack up a shockingly exorbitant cost in tax dollars that instead of going to important state and local investments are being used to hide the savage crimes committed by the people sworn to protect and serve.
Katelyn Kivel is a journalist and political scientist in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.