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.
As the cash-strapped City Council scours the mayor’s proposed budget for wiggle room, a report shows the city spent $50.5 million more last fiscal year to settle claims against the NYPD than it did the year previous.
And the Bloomberg Administration has projected $180.1 million will be required to settle judgments against the NYPD in the next fiscal year — ranging from claims of wrongful death, excessive force, to traffic accidents or damaged property.
Leo Glickman, a Brooklyn civil rights attorney, said his firm has compiled a list of court records of a dozen police officers who have been the subject of multiple tort claims and civil rights suits that have cost the city hundreds of thousands to settle.
"If you had a precinct-by-precinct breakdown for police misconduct lawsuits, you would find some precincts are relatively unscathed and others are serial committers of police misconduct," he said.
As cuts to child care and other city services loom, some City Council members took aim at the amount squirreled away in the mayor’s proposed $68.7 budget to pay out claims against the NYPD during the budget hearing last week.
The city paid $186.3 million in fiscal year 2011 in judgments against the NYPD compared to $135.8 the previous fiscal year, according to numbers provided by City Comptroller John Liu.
Overall, the city has reduced payouts for personal injury and property damage by 7 percent, according to Liu’s 2011 bi-annual report.
That report noted that in 2006 the Bloomberg Administration had paid out only $93.2 million, nearly half of the latest annual payout total.
From 2005 to 2011, there was a 43 percent increase in the number of claims filed against the NYPD, according to that same report Liu is required to release every other year.
The issue of the growing price tag was floated during the budget meeting Thursday.
When asked about the cost to the city – and whether stop and frisk influenced it - during a budget hearing Thursday, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly didn’t rule out that the controversial program may have influenced payout totals.
“It is a significant amount, and some of it maybe associated with Stop, Question and Frisk," Kelly said. "You have to look at the totality, and you have to look at the effects of the tactics and strategies and practices that are in place.”
His remarks came a day after a federal court judge OKed class action status to a suit that alleges the NYPD’s stop and frisk program may have systematically violated the civil rights of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who had been stopped as far back as 2005.
After the hearing, Kelly said the city was too quick to settle suits out of court. He said the NYPD is working with the corporate council’s office to implement ‘lessons learned’ from the payouts to reduce the risk of future claims. Historically, the NYPD was only made aware of settlements if they were $250,000 or more.
Councilman Peter Vallone, public safety chair, has pending legislation that would require the Council to get a detailed breakdown of each NYPD tort claim pay out.
"We can take a look and see if an individual cop or precinct has more than their fair share of lawsuits," Vallone said.
Kelly told reporters he opposed the bill since the suits often take years to resolve and turnover at the precinct level is fairly steady, officers involved in the claim are likely to have moved on by the time the suit was settled.
In response to a WNYC inquiry, the city's corporation counsel's office said in a statement that it was "unfair to suggest, simply based on the number of settlements (none of which constitute an admission of liability) and without checking the underlying facts, that an officer has engaged in wrongdoing."
They noted only a few high-profile cases push the numbers up significantly.