How the Police Insure Against Your Rights

August 19, 2014

By Keffer Hirschauer LLP

It comes as no surprise that, from time to time, law enforcement agencies violate individuals’ rights and civil liberties. Beit being found liable for curtailing someone’s freedom of speech or using excessive force to make an arrest, law enforcement have lost or settled these civil cases. But what happens when they do? Who pays for their mistake?

Is it the officer that violated the person’s rights? Usually not. How about the agency itself? Doesn’t the police department have to pay? This too is usually not the case. For as long as civil rights lawsuits have been around, another industry has been around longer. The insurance industry. Now, in much the same way that you buy health insurance in case you get sick, life insurance to help your family in case you die, or disability insurance in case you get seriously injured and can’t go back to work, law enforcement agencies buy insurance policies to protect themselves financially when and if they violate your rights.

In fact, once the law enforcement agency is notified that a law suit is about to be filed, there is little doubt that one of the first calls they make is to their insurance company. That insurance company will hire attorneys for the law enforcement agency, protect the agency through the federal litigation process, defend the officers in depositions, and – if they are required to – write the check for the violation of your rights. (Note: there are some exceptions like the City of Indianapolis, which is self-insured; however, these are rare and usually exist in larger cities with greater financial resources.)

Some argue, however, that with law enforcement able to readily buy this type of insurance, it takes away from the severity and punitive effect of successful civil rights lawsuits for clear wrongdoing. After all, if a police department can keep paying their premiums every year then they can concern themselves less with abiding by your rights since an insurance company will shoulder most of the financial burden if a severe rights violation were to result in a significant judgment against them. Others say that all insurance against civil rights violations does is spread the cost of those lawsuits out over a longer period of time and simply reduces the risk that a major law suit might shut down a small police department that simply does not have the financial resources to handle such a federal lawsuit.

Regardless, the question remains: if insurance (like automobile insurance) was designed to pool the risk of unpredictable occurrences like accidents amongst larger groups of people, is insurance the proper tool to financially protect law enforcement from intentional violations of your civil rights?

Contact us today if you have questions or believe your criminal or civil rights have been violated. We stand ready to provide our clients with trusted representation and accurate information regarding the law and its application to their individualized case. Act now and contact us today at (317) 857-0160.