Police Misconduct and Its Staggering Cost to Taxpayers

Police misconduct is the historical scourge of American policing. It raises its head in media from time to time with a horrific incident caught on video, but in reality, it thrives in communities across the country every day.


USAToday in June 2020, published a report that at least 85,000 police officers had been investigated or disciplined for misconduct between 2010 and 2020. 


The report found that some 200,000 incidents of police misconduct were alleged during this same period, resulting in 110,000 internal affairs investigations and the decertification of more than 30,000 police by 44 state law enforcement agencies.


That is not a “problem.” 


That is an epidemic of lawlessness by the very police sworn to protect and serve our communities. The nation has paid more attention to all aspects of police misconduct since the 2020 public murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police (herehere, and here).


There were more than 660,000 police officers in the United States in 2021. The Cato Institute’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project found that roughly one percent (or 6,600) of these officers commit police misconduct in any given year.


But what exactly is “police misconduct?”


Here are a few of the most prevalent examples:


  • Police brutality,
  • Dishonesty,
  • Falsification of evidence and perjury,
  • Fraud,
  • Coercion,
  • Torture to force confessions,
  • Abuse of authority, and
  • Sexual assault, including demands for sexual favors in exchange for leniency.


This police misconduct costs taxpayers billions of dollars in civil damage lawsuit settlements. 


The Washington Post reported earlier this year that it had collected data on nearly 40,000 such settlements made by 25 of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies in the amount of $3.2 billion dollars—some of the payments involving officers guilty of repeated episodes of misconduct, 1200 of whom had at least five episodes of misconduct for which taxpayers picked up the tab.


In Florida’s Palm Beach County alone, officials paid out more than $25 million between 2010 and 2020, one-third involving 54 deputies with repeated misconduct. In Washington, D.C., officials paid out settlements in cases involving more than 100 repeat offenders, while neighboring Prince George County, Maryland, paid out settlements involving 47 repeat offenders.


Between 2013 and 2020, police in America killed more than 9,000 civilians—hundreds of them unarmed, at least 100 of them since 2015 were children, and a disproportionate number were young, black males.


These figures are astonishing, considering most instances of police misconduct don’t see civil penalties because of qualified immunity.


Taxpayer pocketbooks enjoy no such immunity. 


There is a shortage of police officers in this country, down nearly 100,000 officers since the early 2000s, and the crime rate has increased since 2017, but this does not justify the official tolerance police departments and police unions have for police misconduct across the country


Legislatures should enact strict laws that force city officials to remove police officers with repeat histories of misconduct, regardless of contracts with police unions that seek to protect bad cops. Such laws cannot circumvent the court-created doctrine of qualified immunity. Still, it would reduce the staggering civil penalties taxpayers are paying out because of repeated misconduct by police officers.


American cities spend roughly $100 billion each year on policing. Hundreds of millions of those dollars are subsidizing police misconduct. That is not fair to law-abiding, taxpaying citizens. We suggest “Defund Police Misconduct” and “Fund Good Policing.”