The police’s troublesome 1 percent

Out of 12,000 Chicago police, 124 are responsible for one-third police of misconduct lawsuits, costing the city $34 million.  Just five police officers were subject of a combined 16 lawsuits, costing the city $1.5 million.

That’s not typical. Of 1,100 lawsuits settled since 2009, only 5 percent paid plaintiffs more than $100,000.

moskosinthehoodPeter Moskos, a former Baltimore street policeman who now teaches criminal justice at NYU, quoted these statistics, which are from a pay-wallled Chicago Tribune article, on his blog.

I’ve been struck by how many of the shooters in high-profile police killings of unarmed civilians have long records of misconduct, which nobody cared about.

My friend Bill Hickok would say this an example of instance of the “power law”, which, when applied to human affairs, indicates that the vast majority of the accomplishments and failures of any group of people is due to a small fraction of people within the group.

Now, if you’re a police officer, the fact that people complain about you doesn’t mean you’re doing a bad job.  It’s the nature of the job that you’re going to do things that people don’t like.  Many city governments have decided that it’s cheaper to settle complaints for some five-figure amount than to fight them all in court.

When I was a newspaper reporter, I got at least as many complaints caused by my doing an good job of reporting as complaints caused by my messing up.  On the other hand, I only ever wrote one article that got my employer sued, and the employer won the lawsuit.  I’m pretty sure that if I had caused my employer to pay millions of dollars in damages, this payout would not have been overlooked.

There are an estimated 900,000 law enforcement officers with arrest powers in the USA.  Except in Lake Wobegon, they can’t all be expected to be above average.  But I think, along with Peter Moskos, that police abuse of citizens could be greatly reduced by taking guns away from a relatively small number of badge-holders.


The 1 percent by Peter Moskos for Cop in the Hood.

Some Baltimore police officers face repeated misconduct suits by Mark Puente for the Baltimore Sun.

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