The Plague-Ground – What could stop rogue cops? Insurance.

Doctors and lawyers have liability insurance. So do hairdressers and barbers.

In fact, so does anyone who owns a car. Get a few speeding tickets and suddenly your premiums rocket – and either you slow down or you stop driving because the cost is prohibitive.

Why can’t we do this with rogue cops?

Why can’t they be forced to pay higher premiums when they misbehave like the rest of us? And if they keep misbehaving, the costs of remaining a cop will eventually exceed the rewards, and they’ll leave.

Most police aren’t like this, nor are most drivers. The rogue cops tend to be repeat offenders. Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis Police Officer who suffocated George Floyd, had faced 17 previous misconduct complaints.

So why are police like him so rarely sanctioned?

Because police unions are against it. Their view is that their job is risky enough that police shouldn’t have to bear the responsibility for their illegal actions, let alone be punished financially for it.

In other words, this idea is politically impossible because power and emotion rule the day. It’s always been this way.

Until last week, that is, when all kinds of unthinkable ideas boiled over.  Like body cameras for ALL police in Canada, which languished DOA on the “needs further study” shelf until George Floyd’s death, and now suddenly Justin Trudeau, John Tory and even Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack are saying: “We must have body cameras!”

But given the huge emotional component of every violent police action, who could possibly decide where to lay blame, and how much? The courts can, but that’s the point of the stunning events of the past two weeks: police abuse is hidden and rarely makes it to court.

So why not give this job to the very people who do this for a living and have for centuries?  Insurance companies. All day they assess risk. Will you speed more if you’re 18 than if you’re 58? Will your fluttering heart kill you sooner than someone who’s heart just beats? Will this lawyer make off with the trust funds, or that doctor abuse his patients?

Once they know the risk, they can ‘price’ it. No emotions. No favoritism. No power plays. Just the numbers. Insurers believe the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. So if you’ve received warnings about using excessive force, or are violent off the job, or you drink and drive, or are verbally or emotionally abusive, you’re at higher risk of being a rogue cop than someone who’s not.

Your premiums would then be priced higher.

What premiums?

Well, your employer, the police force, pays a blanket fee for all their members.

But just as safe drivers shouldn’t have to pay the premiums of unsafe ones, regular police shouldn’t have to pay for rogue ones.

The rogue cops should have to pay more. The worse they behave, the more they should pay, out of their own pockets. If they persist in behaving badly, their rising premiums could force them to change their wicked ways (less likely), or leave (more).

Will this put an end to police violence? No.

Will it change police attitudes towards racial minorities? No.

Will it change the rules of engagement so that rogue police don’t get a free ride for their misbehaviour – past and future?

Yes, it just might.

Where did this oddball idea come from?

It belongs to Deborah Ramirez,  a law professor at Northeastern University and a former assistant U.S. attorney in Boston.

She was interviewed on NPR this week, and I urge you to read more and hear more about it.

Then think how this could work in Canada.

As I said, these are ripe days to think about unthinkable ideas.

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13 thoughts on “The Plague-Ground – What could stop rogue cops? Insurance.”

  1. I’d rather the extra premiums come out of the police union general fund. If they can put up a blue wall to keep their members from reporting on each other, maybe this is a way to get them to peer-pressure away bad behaviour. Literally the only union I’m okay with busting.

  2. The Washington Post has an article which proposes “demilitarizing” instead of “defunding” police Forces. Huge quantities of war-matériel cussed in recent years, including Obama’s. Proposal has a wealth of field behavioural study backup. Hope this idea gains momentum.

  3. Jennifer Laity

    Now that’s an interesting concept. On the other hand, medical malpractice insurance has become so expensive in the US, particularly for high risk specialties like OBGYN, that many practitioners have been put out of business. The same runs through almost all other professions from legal, accounting, consulting to construction and plumbing. The American mindset has grown so litigious and entitled that frivolous law suits are launched like volleyballs just to see if the insurer will pay to have a problem go away. It could work in Canada where I think there is still a code of honor. Al least, I hope

  4. I agree the key thing is to demilitarize the police. Unfortunately, I don’t think it can be done without completely abandoning the current ridiculous “war on drugs”, which has had the same result as Prohibition – violence and guns everywhere.

  5. Michael Scott

    This idea may achieve its stated objectives, but the time has come for us to go even further. First, no guns carried by Metro Toronto police. The Globe this morning points out that in the UK, 95% of police do not carry guns. When police are unable to de- escalate a situation, or when gun fire is present, specially trained and armed police personnel are summoned to the scene. Furthermore, about 2/3 of UK police do not want to wear guns. About 75% want to wear a body camera. The result? Police in the UK shoot an average of 6 people a year. In the US, more than 1000 a year are shot dead by police.

    Second, more extensive and compulsory de-escalation training is obviously needed. If a police candidate fails the course, their application is suspended until they do pass.

    Third, body cameras. Recent pilot projects by, I believe, the RCMP yielded mixed results. They may not be the panacea most of us think they are. But they are at least worth a try. Why not at least a pilot study by the Metro Toronto police.

    I have always believed that something often happens to a person when they have a gun strapped to their waist. Attitudes shift. Escalation is easy. Bullying even more so. It’s time these weapons were removed.

    1. Michael — This are amazing statistics out of Britain, especially the fact that so few police want guns and so many want body cameras. Thanks so much for sending. I believe we are having a ‘moment’ around this issue and that reforms will actually happen. Cheers. Bob

    2. Julia — I’m with you on the wars on drugs, especially in the states where thousands of young men (mainly Black) languish in prison for
      possession. Crazy. Cheers and thanks for writing. Bob

    3. Jennifer — There still is a code of honour here, and a much less litigious environment. Long may it stay that way.

    4. David — When you give someone a gun, they’re apt to use it. When you give them a tank, the same holds true.

    5. Ian — See my piece on police union leadership coming within the hour. They are shockingly white.

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