Police misconduct settlements in New York City last year reached their highest level since 2018, with six payments of more than $10 million, including one to Muhammad A. Malcolm X found not guilty after 20 years in prison.
The total value of the cases was about $73 million, or about 60 percent of the settlements paid out by the police department last year, according to an analysis of city data released Tuesday by the Legal Aid Association, New York’s largest provider of criminal and crime cases. Civil Service Services for Indigent Clients.
Last year’s spending was $121 million, up from about $85 million in 2021.
“In recent years, district attorneys have taken action to dismiss more decades-old criminal cases, which has led to an increase in the number of anti-conviction lawsuits and associated restitution payments,” said Nick Paolucci, spokesman for the city’s legal department.
The city is “reviewing” cases in a “timely manner” to reduce litigation costs and bring justice to those wrongly convicted, Mr. Paulucci added.
Jennvine Wong, an attorney for legal aid workers with the group’s Cop Accountability project, said the increase in spending could also be partly attributed to lawsuits filed after the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.
Police Department at critical moment
The NYPD faces challenges on multiple fronts.
Last year, the city’s Civilian Complaints Review Board, a watchdog that reviews police misconduct, recommended charges against 145 city police officers for misconduct during demonstrations following the killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man. Disciplinary action in Minneapolis in 2020 after he was pinned to the ground by white police officer Derek Chauvin.
During weeks of protests, police and demonstrators clashed across the city, resulting in injuries and hundreds of arrests. The watchdog found evidence to support 267 allegations of misconduct against officials, recommending the highest level of disciplinary action for about 60 percent of them.
Even on top of lawsuits sparked by the protests, the department’s settlements are “astronomically high,” she said. Huang said.
“They pay the price, they settle the lawsuit, but then they don’t pursue discipline,” she said.
Police departments across the country set aside funds to settle civil lawsuits and often pay settlements to avoid lengthy lawsuits, said Maria Haberfeld, a professor of police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Settling a police misconduct lawsuit doesn’t mean a department will punish officers, she said, adding that the payments “have nothing to do with internal discipline.”
For the NYPD, the settlement “does not mean there is an immediate, automatic need to file disciplinary charges against the officer,” she said.
When internal charges are brought against an officer’s conduct, an administrative trial can take months to years to reach a decision.
“The systematic lack of police accountability for killing and abusing people is a decades-old problem,” said Yul-san Liem, a representative of the Judiciary Council, a group that works with families whose relatives were killed in New York City by police officers.
“All of these families are actively calling for the firing of the police officers who killed their loved ones, and it still hasn’t happened,” she said.
A spokesman for the police department said, “The decision to resolve the lawsuit was made alongside that of the legal department and the comptroller.”
Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Police Benevolent Association, said the annual settlement total “is not a fair or accurate measure” of police performance in a given year.
“The city typically resolves cases where the police did nothing wrong, and some of the biggest payouts come from decades-old cases that don’t involve a single officer who is still on the job today,” he said.
Misconduct compensation data released this week by the city’s legal department did not capture all police settlements in 2022. In total, the city paid out nearly $184 million, mostly for bodily injury and property damage, according to the comptroller’s office.
The average settlement total for litigation has also risen since 2018, according to Legal Aid’s analysis. In 2020 and 2021, there was only one settlement over $10 million, and there were no payments over that amount in the previous two years.
Over the past three decades, New York state has the third highest number of acquittals in the nation at 319, behind Illinois at 556 and Texas at 437. New York State also has the highest average payout in the nation for exonerated exonerates. .
Although the city’s data includes a settlement for Mr. Aziz’s 1965 conviction was overturned in 2021, while the $13 million settlement for Khalil Islam, who was acquitted of the assassination, has yet to be reflected.