Behind the lawsuits against LBPD: $31 million in the past six years

When protesters chant “say their names,” they acknowledge the most obvious cost of police violence: Black lives.

But evidently, there are other costs associated with police violence. The families of those killed face emotional turmoil and grief for their loved ones. Studies show that black community members face adverse mental health effects from police violence, even if they’re not the victim of that violence.

In Long Beach, police violence has another less immediate cost: litigation and settlement fees. In the past six years, the city has paid over $31 million for lawsuits related to police use of force, officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths.

By the numbers: police litigation and settlements
This week, the City of Long Beach released six years of police litigation data. In total, the document contains 61 cases from 2014 to 2020.

Of those cases, 38 were related to use of force incidents, 20 were related to officer-involved shootings and 3 were related to in-custody deaths.

More than half of all cases ended in a settlement. From 2014 to 2020, the average cost of each settlement was $518,129. In recent years, settlement costs have surged into the millions.

In 2017, a jury awarded a $9 million verdict to family members of Sinuon Pream, who was shot seven times by LBPD officers after threatening them with a knife. Family members and evidence suggested that Pream was suffering from mental illness.

The city only paid around $4.9 million in relation to this case due to a post-trial settlement of $7.5 million. The rest was covered by the city’s excess insurance.

Taxpayers foot the bill
When someone alleges misconduct by police and files a lawsuit, the city is responsible for the costs associated with the lawsuit.

The cost of attorneys, verdicts and settlements are paid through the city’s insurance fund, according to Principal Deputy City Attorney Howard Russell. Different city departments contribute to that fund. In turn, those departments are funded by taxpayers.

“I am done fighting for 100k for youth programs or 30k for seniors,” Councilmember Jeannine Pearce wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday. The post was accompanied by the raw data of police litigation, which the council requested on March 29 and received this week.

How officers are trained
Police recruits go through 26 weeks of academy training, 60 hours of mandatory advanced officer training courses and eight hours of crisis intervention behavioral training before becoming officers.

Long Beach Assistant Chief of Police Wally Hebeish explained the extent of this training in a memo sent to councilmembers on June 18. Academy training is categorized by learning domains (LDs), which include specific topics and subtopics.

Topics include use of force, cultural diversity and discrimination, persons with disabilities and procedural justice. Subtopics include de-escalation, crisis intervention, impact of force incidents on our community, mental illness, racial profiling and LBPD history and lessons learned.

“The LBPD believes that policing must be conducted in a constitutional manner,” Hebeish wrote in the memo. “LBPD employees are expected to understand these values, practice these values, and treat all people with dignity and respect.”

The department increased its training categories in fiscal year 2017, with “improved techniques to address matters, such as mental health issues, homelessness, tactical communications, fair and impartial policing, cultural diversity, alternatives to arrest, and less than lethal technologies/options.”

The cost of training, $1.4 million in 2019 not including attendee salaries, is dwarfed by the cost of the litigation that this training seeks to reduce, which in the past two years has cost an average of $9.3 million annually.

Future costs
Though police litigation costs have increased in the past few years, it usually takes about a year for cases to conclude by a verdict or settlement. Yearly settlement costs may reflect cases that occurred years earlier and only bare litigation costs once they’re taken to court.

In Long Beach, the bulk of costs are associated with cases that ended with a plaintiff’s judgement, meaning a jury has decided the case in favor of the victim. These cases have cost around $15.6 million in the past six years, most of which are settled post-trial for expediency.

In recent years, both use of force incidents and officer-involved shootings have decreased in Long Beach. From 2015 to 2019, use of force incidents decreased by more than 40%. This decrease may result in a lower number of lawsuits in coming years.

Currently, ten cases are pending, most of which are from incidents that took place in 2017 or 2018. Eight of those are related to use-of-force incidents.

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