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Open-government group eyes police-lawsuit settlements

The website says Philly cops get sued - and dish out settlements - at a troubling rate.

Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey talks to the media outside the CJC in center city March 31, 2009. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff photographer)
Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey talks to the media outside the CJC in center city March 31, 2009. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff photographer)Read moreDN

T HE CITY shells out a pretty penny every year to settle lawsuits based on allegations of police misconduct., which bills itself as a "collaborative news site" that helps journalists, researchers and citizens analyze and share government documents, posted an online report yesterday that looked at how Philadelphia's annual payouts stack up against those in a handful of other large cities.

The findings might not surprise you.

The city has shelled out more than $40 million to settle 584 of the 1,223 police-misconduct lawsuits - think wrongful-shooting deaths, excessive force or illegal searches - filed since January 2009, the website reported.

During the same period, a combined $16.6 million has been spent by four cities - Indianapolis, Ind.; Austin, Texas; San Jose, Calif., and San Francisco - to settle 122 police-misconduct lawsuits.

Individually, the four cities each have fewer people than Philly's 1.5 million. But their combined population is more than twice as large as Philly's, said Todd Feathers, a reporter.

Feathers said the report stemmed from requests the website has sent to the 20 largest U.S. cities for information on police-lawsuit settlements. The website is still parsing through data from some of those cities.

"I didn't know too much about Philadelphia, but I knew the police had a reputation for being hard cases," he said. "I was not expecting the [settlement] numbers to so far exceed the numbers we were getting from other cities."

Earlier this year, the Daily News reported that the city has shelled out more than $70 million since 2008 to settle lawsuits related to police-involved car accidents and civil-rights violations.

City Solicitor Shelley Smith said the Law Department holds regular "risk-management" discussions with the Police Department to review lawsuits filed against cops, to determine whether larger trends or problem areas are arising.

Those discussions, Smith said, have been going on for 22 years. The website's report didn't include enough detailed information about the other cities to make a proper comparison to Philly, she said.