NOW WE can put a price tab on the cost of police misconduct in Philadelphia.According to a report by the website MuckRock, the city has spent $40 million since 2009 in damages and settlements on lawsuits alleging misconduct by police.
The most expensive were two lawsuits brought by people who claimed they were wrongly shot by police. In each case, the city paid $2.5 million.
In all, more than 1,200 cases have been filed since 2009. The city settled roughly half the cases at an average of $69,401 per lawsuit. MuckRock, which got its figures from Freedom of Information requests, looked at lawsuits in a number of American cities. Its study pointed out that Philadelphia had - by far - the highest number of cases and payouts among similarly sized cities that were studied.
In fact, the city paid out more than double the $16 million paid out by four cities: San Jose, Calif; San Francisco; Indianapolis; and Austin, Texas.
Keep in mind, these are civil suits, not criminal charges made against police. The most frequent suits involve use of excessive force, assault and false arrest.
None of this should come as a surprise to Philadelphians.
The stack of stories on police officers gone wrong could fill several file folders - and that's just for recent allegations. There have been serious scandals involving police misbehavior for decades, including bribery, shootings, beatings and wrongful arrests.
On the other hand, the file of stories of police disciplined for their actions is much smaller. Officers routinely beat the rap when it comes to internal police investigations. Even if disciplined by the department, the punishment is often overturned by an arbitrator after a hearing demanded by the Fraternal Order of Police.
Commissioner Charles Ramsey is no slouch when it comes to pursuing bad behavior by police, but even he is often frustrated by the results.
Ramsey may believe that he and his top commanders can be as effective as watchdogs against police corruption and misconduct.
We believe there is a need for an outside, independent monitor of the department when it comes to these _issues.
Granted, we do have a civilian Police Advisory Commission, but it is short-staffed and hasn't worked as an effective deterrent. It's telling weakness is contained in its name: Advisory.
For a time, the department did have an Office of Accountability and Integrity, with an independent-minded director (not from the police bureaucracy) who audited police performance and issued regular reports, some of them quite critical of police and police practices. The head of that office, Ellen Ceisler, later became a Common Pleas Judge.
Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, who never took kindly to the office's criticism, eventually let it die a slow death.
While having an outside integrity and accountability office won't eliminate the problem of police doing wrong, the presence of an active and engaged office would certainly help. A properly staffed office would cost about $1 million a year, far less than the $40 million shelled out by the city to settle misconduct suits.