WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Suits Against NYPD Spike; Payout Balloons to $185M
Thursday, December 27, 2012
More than 8,800 lawsuits were filed against the NYPD in fiscal year 2011, costing the city more than $185 million, according to a recent report that tracks suits filed against city agencies.
The report from City Comptroller John Liu released Thursday shows a 10 percent increase in claims against the NYPD over the previous fiscal year and for the first time breaks down the claims by precinct.
The precincts with the greatest number of tort claims filed against the police are in the Bronx and in Brooklyn, and nearly 1/3 of paid claims were for allegations like excessive force or false arrest, the report says.
“In a city where policy is purportedly driven so much by, ‘Just the facts ma’am,’ these facts are inescapable and they have to prompt a review of NYPD policies and practices,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
By settling suits, the city is not admitting wrongdoing. It is the result of a cost-benefit analysis that weights the financial risk to the city should the suit proceed to trial, a spokesman for the mayor said.
Since 2001, the NYPD payouts have spiked by 73 percent.
Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne blames the increase of plaintiffs’ lawyers whom he says have figured out how to manipulate the system to make “a cottage industry of suing the city.”
“They look for easy, walk-away money through settlements, particularly in the Bronx,” Browne said.
Liu says the payouts can also be the consequence of prosecutors declining to prosecute criminal cases, an action beyond the control of the NYPD. But he said the department should consider monitoring claims by precinct the same way it does crimes.
"If these claims are tracked by precinct then we believe there can be stronger risk management measures taken," Liu said.
Across all city agencies, Liu reports the city paid out more than $550 million to settle personal injury and property damage tort claims – up 5 percent from the previous year.
The report singled out the city's Health and Hospitals Corporation for making substantial progress since 2001 in reducing both the number of malpractice claims brought against it as well as the payouts.
In fiscal year 2003, HHC paid out $195 million in malpractice claims. By 2011, it was down to $130 million.