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Kaine & Beyer Introduce Bill To Increase Transparency About Cost Of Police Misconduct

Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine and U.S. Representative Don Beyer (D-VA-08) introduced the Cost of Police Misconduct Act, legislation to increase transparency and accountability about the costs of police misconduct. The bill would require federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to report judgments and settlements related to police misconduct, including court fees and insurance payments, to the Department of Justice. The introduction comes days after the family of Irvo Otieno—who died from asphyxiation after being handcuffed and pinned to the floor by sheriff’s deputies and staff members at Central State Hospital—reached an $8.5 million settlement with the Commonwealth of Virginia, Henrico County, and the Henrico County sheriff. Cities and counties are not currently required to report information about these costs to the federal government; many cities and counties also have different definitions of misconduct. By creating a comprehensive database on the size and nature of such costs, this bill would help policymakers, stakeholders, law enforcement, and the public understand how much these settlements are costing taxpayers. Understanding the full cost of police misconduct would illuminate the need for reforms that could help save lives and taxpayer dollars. This bill was first introduced following the murder of George Floyd, who died in May 2020 after an officer kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

“While most police officers serve our communities honorably, we have also seen horrific instances of police misconduct like the senseless murder of George Floyd. Every case of police misconduct comes with costs: the harm to an individual, which can be deadly, and the erosion of public trust in law enforcement and our justice system. But there is also a financial cost, which is often hidden from the public,” said Senator Kaine. “This bill would shine an important light into how much money states and local municipalities spend on police misconduct-related settlements and increase transparency and accountability.”

“Many of us understand the significant harm caused by police misconduct and its devastating cost to human life, but most Americans are unaware that cities and counties also bear a staggering financial toll because law enforcement agencies often settle misconduct claims in secret,” said Representative Beyer. “Full data transparency is urgently needed to help hold those responsible for misconduct accountable and to help jurisdictions prevent abuses. Our legislation would provide communities and policymakers the data necessary to measure the cost of misconduct settlements, to not only saves lives—the most important goal—but also taxpayer dollars, which would be better spent on programs and policies that are proven to prevent crime.”

"We applaud Representative Beyer and Senator Kaine for introducing this vital piece of transparency legislation," said Josh Parker, Senior Counsel at the Policing Project. "Taxpayers ought to know how much their government is spending to resolve allegations of police wrongdoing. This critical information about the nature and costs of police misconduct will enable community members and elected officials to make better, more informed decisions about how to address it."

Every year, states, cities, and counties across the country spend hundreds of millions of dollars on judgments and settlements related to police misconduct—the costliest of which, in many cases, are civil rights violations (e.g., use of force) that result in the physical injury or death of residents. Cities and counties typically pay for such judgments and settlements through liability insurance (typical of smaller cities), or from a general or dedicated municipal fund (typical of larger cities), or by issuing bonds, which are particularly common for large judgments or settlements. Bond funding often results in taxpayers paying nearly double the cost of the judgment or settlement because the city or county must pay fees to financial institutions and interest to investors.

A Washington Post report found that police misconduct cost taxpayers more than $3 billion since 2020, with more than $1.5 billion of that paid to settle claims against officers who had more than one claim against them. A previous study found that the nation’s three largest cities—New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles—had paid almost $2.5 billion of the $3 billion total paid out to settle misconduct claims over the past decade, but that smaller cities still spent millions of dollars settling claims. Another report found that the ten cities with the largest police departments paid almost $250 million in settlement costs and court judgments in just one year. In Virginia, Fairfax County has paid over $3 million in settlements for police misconduct since 2015, and the City of Richmond paid $1.6 million and released the Richmond Police Department general orders as part of settlements related to the use of force during protests following George Floyd’s murder. Earlier this month, following an incident in which police pepper sprayed 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario during a traffic stop, the Virginia Town of Windsor agreed to a settlement with the Virginia Attorney General’s Office requiring additional oversight of misconduct complaints.

Specifically, the Cost of Police Misconduct Act would require:

  • Federal law enforcement agencies and state and local law enforcement agencies that receive federal funds under the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program (JAG) or the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) “Cops on the Beat” grant program to report on an annual basis judgments or settlements related to misconduct by law enforcement officers, including settlements reached before a lawsuit has been filed, and, for each allegation and judgment or settlement reported:
    • the race, ethnicity, sex, and age of each officer and civilian involved;
    • the year in which the alleged misconduct took place;
    • the year in which the alleged misconduct was reported;
    • the type of misconduct alleged, which may include a body camera violation (whether a failure to wear or record), use of force (including type of force), a collision, racial profiling, negligence, property damage, sexual harassment or assault, false testimony, wrongful death, failure of duty to intervene and/or wrongful imprisonment;
    • any personnel action taken by the officer involved, which may include resignation or retirement;
    • any personnel action taken by the law enforcement agency involved, which may include termination, demotion or relocation of the officer;
    • the total amount paid to satisfy a judgment or settlement (and related court fees) with respect to such allegation regardless of the source of the payment;
    • the source of money used (e.g., general operating budget, law enforcement agency budget, bond) to pay a judgment or settlement (and related court fees); and
    • the total amount spent on all such judgments and settlements (and related court fees).
  • States and local governments to publish their reported data on their respective websites.
  • The Attorney General to create and maintain an online, public, searchable database of the information reported.
  • The Comptroller General to conduct a study of the information reported to determine the leading cause of such judgments and settlements and what can be done to prevent them, and to submit a report about the aforementioned study to Congress.
  • The Attorney General to submit a separate report to Congress containing the collected data and required recommendations.
  • The Attorney General to determine the number of federal agencies that have law enforcement authority and make this information publicly available, as well as update it annually. (As a recent DOJ IG report explains, the federal government does not know the exact number of agencies that have law enforcement authority. In order to determine if these agencies are in compliance with this law and others, the federal government needs to know how many of them exist.)

Full text of the bill is available here.