Two federal lawmakers and the District’s Office of Police Complaints renewed their calls this week for police departments to make public details about police officers whose alleged misconduct resulted in multiple payments for claims including wrongful arrests and excessive force.
The renewed push for transparency followed a Washington Post investigation this week that revealed 25 of the largest police and sheriff’s departments spent more than $3.2 billion to resolve claims of police misconduct over the past 10 years. The Post’s investigation also found that more than $1.5 billion had been spent to settle claims against officers who had been named in more than one paid claim. Those payments — and the officers involved — are rarely tracked by police departments or city officials who approve such taxpayer-financed settlements.
The lawmakers hope the Senate and House will pass their act, which would require such payments involving police officers to be recorded and made public at all levels of government.
“Police misconduct causes significant harm and puts lives at risk, but settlements for misconduct are often shrouded in secrecy,” Kaine told The Post in an interview Friday. “Law enforcement agencies often settle misconduct claims out of the public eye, burying controversies and making full accountability impossible.”
The Post’s investigation, Kaine said, made “clear that policymakers need this data, and our Cost of Police Misconduct Act would make sure they get it. We need full transparency so that officers can be held accountable.”
Also in response to the article, Michael G. Tobin, executive director of the Office of Police Complaints, wrote D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III to renew a push for the department to establish a program to “systematically review” lawsuits filed against the department and its officers. Tobin shared a copy of the letter with The Post.
In the letter, he also told Contee that the department should publicly publish reports regarding the lawsuits and any intervention, training or policy changes that resulted from the litigation.
The Post’s investigation found 65 officers in the District were named in multiple claims between 2010 and 2020, accounting for $7.6 million of the more than $90 million in payments — the fifth-highest overall of the 25 cities surveyed.
“I have been concerned about this for many years,” Tobin said in an interview, adding that he first requested the measures in 2019, but the department did not implement his recommendations. Contee was appointed chief in 2021.
Tobin said that if cities such as D.C. were more aggressive in addressing the allegations that lead to such payments through retraining, reassigning, disciplining and even dismissing officers involved, there would be fewer patterns of misconduct — and fewer payments.
A spokesman for the D.C. police declined to comment on Tobin’s letter, instead saying the department would respond to Tobin directly.
Nationally, such police transparency measures face steep challenges.
Beyer said he hoped to have his bill up for a vote in the House by the end of July.
But the majority of Republican senators have balked at police revision measures. Kaine said he hoped Republicans would focus on the financial liability of alleged police misconduct and agree on creating measures that track officers involved in repeated claims that ultimately affect “taxpayer’s pockets,” he said.
“Every mayor and governor could be able to see the patterns, and why are there spikes in payments,” Kaine said in an interview. “If there is a drop in payments, then great job, chief. If you see what the patterns are, you can reward good behavior. And if there was bad behavior, then you can take measures to address it.”
In The Post’s investigation, Jim Pasco, executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police, said he opposed linking such information to an officer in public or using it as a form of performance review, especially since in the majority of such payments, officers do not admit wrongdoing nor is there a finding by a court. “If there’s never been a finding of guilt or anyone’s fault, why put that in an officer’s record?” Pasco told The Post. “That would be such a glaring omission of due process where in the legal system in the United States, a person is innocent until proven guilty.”
The authors of the bill said one of the elements — if sought by lawmakers as a condition of their vote — could be that only officers who were the subject of multiple payments or payments of more than an identified minimum would be made public. Identifying and measuring such payments is a way, the bill’s authors said, to reduce them.
“It’s basically physics that you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Beyer said. “Once you measure something, then you can change people’s behavior.”
Paul Kane and Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.