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.
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.