Small towns are losing their police forces due to significant financial losses from lawsuit settlements, but insurance firms may be able to do something about it.
In recent years, cities in Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Tennessee, Louisiana and parts of California have had to disband their police forces after insurance firms withdrew coverage.
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However, insurance firms could also help these same forces clean up their act and improve their risk profile.
Citing a paper by University of Chicago law professor John Rappaport, The Atlantic said that insurance firms are stepping in to get law enforcement agencies into shape, help prevent misconduct and minimize lawsuits against police officers.
One advantage of having risk managers step in to initiate reform, he said, is that they are apolitical.
“I think the debates about policing have become so fraught and inflammatory. To have this big, well-heeled institution saying ‘We’re not interested in that debate, we just want to get those numbers down’—it can make reform more palatable because it takes the electricity out,” the professor told Atlantic journalist Rachel B. Doyle.
Furthermore, having insurers on hand can help augment the limited resources of the local governments that support police forces. They offer services such as training sessions, applicant screenings and data analysis to help prevent officers commit offences.
In Irwindale, California, a private risk management firm helped reform the police form by conducting biweekly meetings, providing training sessions on topics such as sexual harassment and undue use of force. It had 18 months to clean up its act or it risked losing coverage due to high profile and big ticket cases - but it succeeded.
“I’ve never seen such a thing in my whole life. I’m going on 27 years,” police Chief Anthony Miranda told the publication.
However, insurers are not the only answer to police reform. California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (CJPIA) assistant executive officer Norman Lefmann said the role of risk managers in reform has its limitations.
“We have no ultimate enforcement ability, so it still does require the city and police department to have the wherewithal to make the changes that need to be made. We have no control over them,” he emphasized.