By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A new report by the New York City Comptroller’s Office shows that legal claims against the New York City Police Department have steadily increased from 2008.
Comptroller John Liu’s office looked at nine agencies, five of which — NYPD, Health and Hospitals Corp., Department of Transportation, Department of Sanitation, and the Department of Education — accounted for the most tort claims in 2012.
According to the report, the number of new police-action claims rose 22 percent in 2012 and nearly doubled in the past five fiscal years, rising 94 percent. Police action claims result from alleged improper police conduct, such as false arrest or imprisonment, shooting of a suspect, excessive force or assault, or failure to provide police protection.
It is unclear from the report if the rise of police action claims is a result of the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy. Stop-and-frisk is a practice whereby a police officer who reasonably suspects a person has committed or is in the process of committing a crime stops that person and subsequently frisks them for weapons; “reasonably suspects” is a lower standard than the standard of probable cause that is required to justify an arrest.
The widely-used stop and frisk program has come under significant fire lately.
A federal case is proceeding in Manhattan Federal Court against the city and the NYPD for its use of stop and frisk. The trial revealed that than 5 million stops have been made in New York in the past decade, the majority of those stopped were black and Hispanic males.
Police officers testified that they stop “"the right people, at the right time in the right location." NYPD defends that statement as meaning the location where crimes occur, around the time they likely occur, and the individuals that match the descriptions of a crime suspect. Plaintiff attorneys and community leaders say that the phrase is a signal for targeting men of color.
“The growing number of new claims against the NYPD will cost taxpayers more money, and is a measure of public frustration with the agency,” Liu said. “Between rising claims and a growing chasm between communities and the police. This disturbing and persistent trend at the NYPD must be addressed by the Bloomberg Administration in order to keep New York truly the safest big city.”
While the NYPD leads city agencies in the amount of legal claims, the Department of Transportation comes close behind with more than 4,000 legal claims brought against the agency in 2012. Claims against the Dept. of Transportation, while high, have reduced significantly between 2011 and 2012. DOT claims are down 27 percent. Department of Sanitation claims are down 62 percent, Parks Department down 22 percent, Fire Department down 14 percent, Department of Education down 2 percent, and Health and Hospitals down 2 percent as well.
The amount that the city paid out in claims, tort settlements, and judgments in 2012 was $485.9 million, 12 percent less than the $553.7 million paid out in FY 2011.
“My office will encourage city agencies to minimize and prevent costly claims,” Liu said. “At the same time, we will work with the Corporation Counsel to reduce the overall cost of litigation and settlements while being fair to people who have been harmed.”