UPDATED: An idea advocated by Maine attorney Marcus Wraight in a recent law review article is starting to get national attention.
In the article,* published last year in the American Journal of Criminal Law, the authors analyzed current police accountability and found each method wanting, but then advocated for professional liability insurance for policing - modeled in the same way as motorists are forced to have insurance to drive.
The proposal would mean municipalities would cover a 'base' premium at no cost to the officer, but if individual behavior (such as complaints or lawsuits) raises that premium, the officer pays the difference. In the end, those who continue to engage in bad behavior would simply be priced out of the job. At the moment, municipalities pay settlements made against individual officers, either directly or through municipal insurance, even though a lawsuit is normally against the officer personally.
On Sunday, one of the other co-authors of the article, Professor Deborah Ramirez, of Northeastern University School of Law, was interviewed on NPR's All Things Considered about the idea.
The article looked at the police accountability problem through the lens of the Eric Garner case and followed how the officer involved in the chokehold that killed him had not been fired or disciplined years later. He has since been dismissed. The officer had numerous complaints leading up to the death of Mr. Garner.
Liability insurance is also a potential solution to an end to qualified immunity, a United States Supreme Court rule that interpreted a federal statute (creating a doctrine from whole cloth) that effectively bars many civil rights lawsuits before they even get to be heard by a jury. If qualified immunity ended, there would be a rise in the number of successful cases that municipalities would be less inclined to cover - putting the officer on the hook directly. The idea would also get round that problem, while still having a direct financial effect on the officer with higher premium.
The idea was first proposed many years ago in a criminal justice journal and then campaigners tried to get a vote passed in Minneapolis. They were blocked by the Minnesota Supreme Court, which said state law meant an individual municipality could not adopt the idea on its own because of a legal doctrine known as preemption.
Aside from the interview on NPR, other opinion pieces and features are also in the works to get wider publicity for the idea. This op-ed was published in The Boston Globe on June 10 about the same issue.
On July 10, co-author Professor Deborah Ramirez was on ABC’s GMA3: What You Need To Know talking about the idea of mandatory professional liability insurance as advocated in the original law review article.
Other publications have cited the law review article that helped to reignite the idea, and more interviews and articles are in the works.
(*There may be difficulty reading this on a device other than on a desktop or laptop).