by Christopher Zoukis
Clark Neily, vice president for criminal justice at the Cato Institute, made an unusual proposal in a recent op-ed piece in The New York Daily News: require all police officers to carry not just a gun, but also an insurance policy.
Neily’s idea is inspired by the increase, in both number and dollar amount, of liability settlements by policy agencies. In New York, for instance, Neily said more than $308 million was paid out for injuries caused by NYPD officers in 2017 alone. That’s up from $92.4 million in 2007 and $152 million in 2012.
Those dollar amounts are covered 99.98 percent of the time by police departments, which are funded by taxpayers. Offending officers do not pay for the damage they cause—taxpayers do. So Neily argues all officers should be required to carry liability insurance. Doctors, he says, also work in high-pressure situations where life and death is at stake, and they carry malpractice insurance to cover their mistakes. Why shouldn’t police?
The key to Neily’s proposal is the risk-identification expertise possessed by insurance carriers. They know who presents the greatest risk and pool them accordingly. Higher risk insureds pay a higher premium. In addition to spreading risk, this incentivizes non-risky behavior. Aligning incentives, says Neily, is a great way to improve public safety while decreasing taxes.
“Police officers are engaged in a profession that, while indispensably crucial, also poses serious risk, and that risk is causing taxpayers to foot an enormous bill when the officers fail to meet the standard of care,” said Neily.
Anticipating the objection of arguably underpaid police officers being saddled with insurance premiums, Neily suggests a taxpayer-funded “pot” of money to pay premiums. Officers would be allotted say, $10,000 per year for premiums. If an insurer determines that a particular officer is a significant risk requiring a higher premium, the officer would have to pay the difference or find a new job.
“Private liability insurance provides an extremely powerful tool for distinguishing between the best and worst cops,” said Neily. “The time has come to use it.”
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