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Are Million-Dollar Police Misconduct Settlements Leading To Reforms?

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has approved a $700,000 settlement for a radio reporter who was slammed to the ground by police and taken into custody during a demonstration in September 2020, USA Today reports. That announcement came soon after the city council in Fort Worth, Texas, proposed a $3.5 million settlement for the nephew of Atatiana Jefferson, who was fatally shot by a police officer in 2019. Jefferson was playing video games with her nephew when she was killed. These payouts are a small fraction of the reported billions of dollars paid by local governments to resolve lawsuits related to allegations of police misconduct. Criticism of the amount of money spent on such settlements became part of the national conversation on police spending amid protests over the 2020 murder of George Floyd.

Still, lawsuit payouts account for less than 1% of local government budgets, police departments themselves rarely feel the financial impact and individual officers are almost never required to contribute, meaning there may be little financial incentive to prevent future misconduct. "There doesn't seem to be a real connection between what's happening in the courtroom and what's happening on the ground in terms of policing and policing trends, which is a real problem and shouldn't be the case," said Alexa Van Brunt, an attorney and director of the MacArthur Justice Center Clinic at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. Settlements can be used to resolve state or federal lawsuits or allegations of wrongdoing by police officers and their departments brought by victims or their surviving family members. The claims may include violations of constitutional rights or state law, including excessive use of force, assault, battery, wrongful arrest or wrongful death.


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