Albany, NY – A New York legislator proposed a bill on Monday that would force police officers in the state to get their own personal liability insurance to cover any lawsuits filed against them for excessive force or other wrongdoing in the course of performing their duties.
Senate Bill S8676, introduced by Democratic New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, excluded police from provisions requiring defense and indemnification of state officers and employees and instead puts the onus and expense for insurance coverage on individual officers.
The legislation, if passed, would dramatically change the manner in which police departments handle litigation, according to The Hill.
Current law requires the city law department to represent police officers who are sued and the city pays the tab for the lawsuit’s verdict or settlement, FOX News reported.
Under Biaggi’s proposed legislation, the local government would still have to carry insurance to cover tort litigation costs.
She said her legislation would hold officers accountable by forcing them to pay their increased premiums related to coverage required because of accused wrongdoing in the line of duty, FOX News reported.
Insurance premiums could potentially become unaffordable even if the officer did nothing wrong.
“Officers who have misconduct claims brought against them may see their premium go up and will be required to pay those costs. The purpose of this bill is to establish a financial disincentive for police misconduct and create accountability for abhorrent behavior,” the bill’s sponsor said.
“While taxpayers bailout law enforcement who engage in misconduct, those same officers too often evade meaningful accountability,” Biaggi added.
A report released by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s office showed that the city paid out $230 million between July of 2017 and June of 2018 in 6,472 lawsuits related to alleged wrongdoing or misconduct by New York Police Department (NYPD) officers, FOX News reported.
Biaggi’s legislation comes amidst a slew of other police reform measures that lawmakers have taken up in Albany in recent weeks.
In June, a state senator from the Bronx and an assemblywoman from Brooklyn proposed legislation that would strip police officers of their pensions if they were fired due to misconduct or malfeasance, or resign or retire in the middle of a misconduct investigation, the New York Post reported.
Officers can already lose their pensions if they’re convicted of a felony, but that wasn’t enough for State Senator Luis Sepulveda and Assemblywoman Diana Richardson, who are both Democrats.
The proposed bill would also rescind retirement benefits from officers for other “improper” or “illegal” activities such as fabrication of evidence, repeated use of excessive force, acceptance of a bribe or fraud, the New York Post reported.
“Law enforcement officers take an oath to protect and serve. They are supposed to be our trusted partners. However, when that trust is broken, there must be consequences. What this bill does is add a level of accountability by terminating the retirement benefits of law enforcement officers who take it upon themselves to act outside of their training and the law,” Richardson said in a statement after the legislation was introduced.
The police union’s reaction to the proposed changes was dramatic and angry.
“This bill is mind-blowing hypocrisy: Police officers’ retirement benefits could be stripped away based on mere allegations of misconduct, while state legislators who are formally censured for serious misconduct would still get to keep theirs,” Police Benevolent Association Union President Pat Lynch told the New York Post.
“Senator Sepulveda should cut out his anti-cop grandstanding and focus on his constituents. Eighty people were shot in the Bronx last month, more than double last June’s total. What is he doing about that?” Lynch asked.
On June 12, New York Governor Cuomo signed into law a bill that granted public access to police disciplinary records, the New York Post reported.
The newly-enacted bill not only repealed the police records secrecy rule known as “50-a,” it also banned the use of chokeholds and granted the New York attorney general the authority to independently investigate in-custody deaths.