Law enforcement agencies are a very attractive target when it comes to litigation. Thus, civil liability is a concern in American policing and will continue to be. Often, civil lawsuits against police are filed when they abuse their power, are negligent, or violate the civil rights of a citizen. Police officers and administrators understand the possibility of litigation. However, the circumstances where they will be held liable are not always clear. For this reason, police administrators need to understand the law and how police practices can potentially lead to litigation. Their goal is to minimize the risk of lawsuits in their department because the costs of liability in policing can be astronomical.
You are the new police chief of a large city. The police department in your city has several complaints filed in the past year with Internal Affairs about certain police practices that some of the complaints allege police corruption. Corruption is a persistent problem in American policing, and it is essentially a misuse of authority for personal gain. It is not always easy to decipher what acts are classified as corruption. As a police chief, you are concerned that these complaints may turn into lawsuits against the city police department that could potentially cost millions of dollars. You have never had to deal with a lawsuit against the city police department at any of the previous departments that you commanded. You want to understand more about the nature of civil liability associated with policing.
Also, because you are a new police chief, you are trying to correct all the problems of corruption and these complaints, where the most prominent complaint is over police corruption. You know that police officers often go to lunch at a local family-owned restaurant in the city and receive free meals. You remember from your police academy classes and your AIU classes that you are not allowed to accept gifts from people while you are on duty; however, you know that many officers in your department accept free meals and gifts. While at lunch one day with some of your officers, you go to pay for you meal (which is valued at approximately $10.00), and one of the officers tells you that you do not have to pay for your meal at this restaurant. You pay for your meal but are concerned about the comment, so you decide to write a memo in APA format to your subordinates about the following issues and questions. You must write a paper of 2–3 pages outlining your thoughts about the issues and back up your thoughts with cited facts.
- Should you pay for the meal or take the free meal? Why? Does it make a difference if you are on-duty or off-duty?
- Is accepting a free meal ethical as a police officer?
- What are the pros and cons in accepting the free meal? What are the pros and cons in not accepting the free meal?
- Do you think that police officers should be held to a “higher standard” than people in other professions?
- Do you think that the police department can be sued over accepting free lunches?
- What are some of the more common reasons why people sue a police department?
- Can someone sue the police in a state and federal court? Explain.
- What is the harm caused when someone sues a police department?
- How can civil liability be reduced?