Insuring Our Police

imagesThe following is a proposal from the Minneapolis-based Committee for Professional Policing. It bears strong consideration as we move forward to rebuild police trust and support.

[See also the local news article on this proposal HERE.]

The Case for Professional Liability Insurance for Police

“Our amendment would require police officers to purchase their own professional liability insurance but would allow the city to pay the base rate for that insurance if the city council chooses.  However, any additional premium due to the number of complaints or lawsuits against the officer would be paid by that officer.

“The wording of our amendment is below.  The words in italics are the our proposed changes.

“We, the undersigned, petition the City of Minneapolis Charter Commission to implement/amend the City Charter to read as follows:

Section 7.3(a)(2) Police Officers. Each peace officer appointed in the police department must be licensed as required by law.  Each such licensed officer may exercise any lawful power that a peace officer enjoys at common law or by general or special law, and may execute a warrant anywhere in the county.

Each appointed police officer must provide proof of professional liability insurance coverage in the amount consistent with current limits under the statutory immunity provision of state law and must maintain continuous coverage throughout the course of employment as a police officer with the city.  Such insurance must be the primary insurance for the officer and must include coverage for willful or malicious acts and acts outside the scope of the officer’s employment by the city.  If the City Council desires, the city may reimburse officers for the base rate of this coverage but officers must be responsible for any additional costs due to personal or claims history.  The city may not indemnify police officers against liability in any amount greater than required by State Statute unless the officer’s insurance is exhausted.  This amendment shall take effect one year after passage.

Understanding the Amendment

“It’s a simple concept, really–cops who engage in misconduct will have to pay for the additional premiums out of pocket.  Some will eventually become uninsurable.  An effective risk management strategy will be put into place and we will finally be able to do something about the cops who engage in misconduct over and over.

“We consulted with many stakeholders as we developed the wording for this amendment.  We asked these questions as we worked with insurance professionals, attorneys and others: Does this comply with Minnesota laws? Will this help and not hurt victims of police brutality and the attorneys who represent them? Will this help and not hurt good cops who don’t engage in misconduct? Does this leave any wiggle room for the city not to enforce it?  We only went forward with our proposal when we were satisfied with the answers to these questions.

“For more specifics on the mechanics of the amendment, please read CUAPB’s Position Paper on Police Professional Liability Insurance, and read the FAQ.

Visit their website HERE.

  • Seeing that only a small number of police are responsible for illegal use of force and, therefore, drive municipal liability payments, why doesn’t a city provide basic insurance coverage gratis to every police officer but require those who abuse citizens to pay for additional premiums — just like bad drivers pay more for their insurance, why not police?


  1. This proposal has a great deal of face validity, but deeper analysis indicates it is flawed in many ways. The fundamental principle of individual responsibility and accountability for performance is compelling but is insufficient to reduce police malpractice. The medical profession utilizes this model and in spite of high levels of professional liability a 2012 study (J Health Care Finance. 2012 Fall;39(1):39-50) found that approximately 200,000 Americans die each year from preventable medical errors. It has been reported (Ann Med Health Sci Res. 2013 Apr-Jun; 3(2): 295–296) that 48% of government physicians and 73% of private physicians engage in defensive medicine (ordering unnecessary medical tests/procedures to defend against potential liability as opposed to medical necessity). Most government physicians, such as those who are employed by the Veterans Administration, do not carry professional liability insurance. We all bear the costs of that defensive medicine. The evidence from the medical profession should lead us to conclude that copying that model of constraining malpractice is not a good idea.

    Another problem with this proposal is that it rests on the underlying assumption that the problems confronting policing in America are matters of incompetent or evil individuals. The fundamental problems facing policing are dysfunctional and/or non-existent systems and inadequate leadership. Most evil in policing is also criminal and should be dealt with as such my morally courageous leaders. That brings us to the matter of incompetence, which also requires the attention of morally courageous leaders. All humans are incompetent in at least some performance domains. Most incompetent performance has a root cause in poor personnel selection, training, and retention. We simply do not adequately prepare officers for performance in critical incidents.

    This proposal raises issues of equity. It is unfair to thrust a professional liability model on police officers who are not allowed to function as professionals in the market place. The proposal continues a long tradition of American government taking advantage of those willing to sacrifice. Public safety employees subsidize government with labor paid for at discount rates. This proposal seeks further subsidies from those public safety employees. If a local government chooses to pay the basic rate, what will happen when that rate increases and/or tax revenues fall? If current trends in public safety retirement systems are indicative, then it is quite likely that future budget constraints will tempt elected officials to shift more or the burden for professional liability insurance to those public safety employees who are willing to continue to sacrifice.


  2. For those who insist that the police are the problem this strikes me as very appealing. Can you imagine if the rate each officer pays is based on an agency wide risk assessment? For example, the private insurer for the city of Chicago increases the premium for every Chicago cop based on the 6 million they have paid out in settlements last year. The institutional support for misconduct and cover-ups would come to a screeching halt. But wait, Chicago like many municipalities are self-insured, so that will never happen.

    The key here is that this insurance must be private so that we can use the market mechanisms, incentives and dis-incentives, to get a handle on rogue cops.

    However, I firmly maintain that cops are not the actual problem that needs attention. Certainly, policing can stand improvement but cops are still just a reflection of the communities they serve.


  3. Here is a link about joining the Singapore Police Department where you have to be bonded and surety.

    Nowadays with the shortage of police recruits, it is a lot easier for cops to become free market agents and look to get the most pay and benefits. The same can be said for police supervisors, managers, and higher ranking chiefs.

    “The proposal continues a long tradition of American government taking advantage of those willing to sacrifice. Public safety employees subsidize government with labor paid for at discount rates. This proposal seeks further subsidies from those public safety employees.”

    Well it isn’t that the same thing for Corporate America where they expect the public, the government and its workers to subsidise their losses and their profits?

    “Most incompetent performance has a root cause in poor personnel selection, training, and retention. We simply do not adequately prepare officers for performance in critical incidents.”

    Which is why we need to adopt some of the European police ways of selecting, teaching and promoting police officers since we have been unable or unwilling to do it ourselves. As you stated Mr. Bowman, it takes morally courageous leaders; however, we do not by and large encourage, nurture, and support such people.


  4. Making police officers responsible for their actions instead of hiding under the skirts of bad police chiefs/politicians may not be the best or the most desirable to those who love the entitlements found on the other side of the scales of justice but ANYTHING HOLDING THEM RESPONSIBLE will definetly be an IMPROVEMENT in the STATUS QUO.

    If the rules are clear and not merky like most leaders love them to be and those rules are broken then a panel not just made up of groumed appointed police officers should review the actions of that police officer/force in the view of improving and if his actions are fear based, anger based, racist based or bully based the officer should be sent packing…. like any other job not protected then the liability insurance would not be necessary.


    1. When things go horribly wrong rest assured it is almost always those closest to the point of failure who are held responsible. Reality is the opposite of what you state. In bureaucracies leaders who contribute to failure almost never pay the price.

      Those entitlements are few, and getting fewer, otherwise agencies would not have difficulty recruiting or retaining officers.

      The cries for accountability are most often based on negative outcome and actor/observer biases. When outcomes are particularly negative we tend to punish the outcome not the behavior. When any of us observe another person’s performance we tend to attribute failure to internal factors and discount external factors.

      What we need is a learning model not an accountability model. Hospitals that practice learning instead of accountability have lower mortality rates. It’s up to you. You can go to a hospital where they will fire the person who kills you. I would prefer to increase my chances of leaving the hospital for my home instead of the funeral home by going to a hospital that focuses on learning instead of accountability.


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