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NYPD Abuse Costs The City Millions — and Taxpayers Foot the Bill

By LIDA TUNESI

Protests against police brutality have made headlines in recent months, but one aspect of the issue that doesn’t get a lot of publicity is how much it costs taxpayers to settle lawsuits alleging excessive force by police.

The city of Louisville has just agreed to pay $12 million to the family of Breonna Taylor, who was killed when police broke into her home in a drug raid. Other cities have also had to shell out millions of dollars to settle claims.

A recent investigation by undergraduate journalism students at Lehman College looked at how much New York City has paid to settle cases in the Bronx.

The city paid “more than $30 million in 2019 to plaintiffs in the Bronx who filed their cases alleging police misconduct between 2015 and 2019,” the students wrote, noting that because of transparency issues, the real amount is likely higher. “Overall, for lawsuits filed between the latter half of 2015 and first half of 2020, taxpayers paid out nearly $250 million to people in all five boroughs.”

The students spent the spring 2020 semester digging up the stories behind such numbers as a project for Professor Eileen Markey’s class. The culmination of their work appears in The Intercept, detailing the violence and harassment that leads to these lawsuits, and the social and financial repercussions.

“I learned that in order to expose the atrocities within a system you have to dig deep to find the truth. Even if that means looking at the same pieces of evidence over and over,” said Amman Ahmad, a senior at Lehman who grew up in the Bronx.

The students’ article gives example after example of police misconduct and shows that each story is just one point in a larger pattern of violent, lewd, and racist behavior that harms citizens and uses tax money. The New York Police Department says that they monitor lawsuits as way to track and correct behavior, but the students identified many repeat offenders, which suggests that steps to dismiss abusive officers or retrain them are not working. In the Bronx alone, “nearly 190 officers were named in at least five lawsuits (apiece) between 2015 and 2019,” the students wrote.

Every semester, Markey has her class do a semester-long investigative project. The students gained experience with Freedom of Information Act requests, reading through public records, and talking to lawyers and plaintiffs.

“Students in the Bronx are familiar with tensions with the police,” Markey said. “I wanted to show them the power of journalism. I’m trying to teach them that even though it might not be easy or romantic, you can find real facts.”