Lee Friday – August 16, 2017
The London Free Press reported (emphasis added):
In 2015, figures released following a Free Press Freedom of Information request showed city taxpayers paid out more than $327,000 over five years to settle an average of 10 excessive force complaints a year against London police officers. The top payout in that period came in 2009, $104,314 to settle 11 such claims.
Taxpayers paid $327,000 to settle a total of 50 excessive force complaints against police officers. The average settlement was $6,540. That’s a lot of money for one police officer. So, the government says, “Don’t worry about it officer, we will disburse the cost over tens of thousands of taxpayers.”
This is a crazy system. Why do taxpayers have to pay for the mistakes of police officers? Haven’t the taxpayers put up enough cash already? The officers are well paid because the taxpayers have no control over their salary negotiations with the city – a coercive process from which the officers win and the taxpayers lose. Is it too much to ask the officers to control their own behaviour? And if they are unable to control their own behaviour, is it too much to ask that they be held accountable for their bad behaviour, just as civilians are held accountable for their bad behaviour.
$327,000 may not sound like much – less than a dollar per person in the City of London over a five-year period. However, we should be very concerned about the underlying principle which permits officers to externalize the costs of their actions onto the backs of taxpayers.
In all government operations, revenue is forcibly extracted from citizens (taxation), and the government arbitrarily decides what services are delivered in return for the coerced payment. Citizens have no control over the process. The government’s revenue is guaranteed even if consumers (citizens) are unsatisfied with the services they have purchased. Because payment and service are not linked (in contrast to the private sector), a culture arises where little incentive exists to control the behaviour of individuals, or hold accountable the individuals operating within the system of government. Furthermore, unlike regular citizens, police officers and many other government officials are granted immunity from prosecution for many of their actions. Equality under the law is a myth. Add it all up, and the incentive to control one’s behavior is greatly weakened.
If an officer unjustifiably harms a civilian, it is the officer’s fault, period. He should be held accountable, which means he should be required to pay compensation to his victim out of his own pocket. In our society, it is mind boggling that it is legal to externalize the costs of one’s mistakes onto the backs of innocent parties – taxpayers. It is painfully obvious this arrangement does nothing to incentivize an officer to control his future behaviour.
Consider the case of Police Constable Pouli of the Niagara Regional Police. Pouli was found guilty of assaulting 19-year-old Garett Rollins. A judge awarded Rollins $28,500 in civil damages, but Pouli did not pay this out of his own pocket and he did not face any disciplinary action. Just prior to the assault, when Rollins dared to question the rough treatment of a girl by Constable Benjamin Tomiuck, the response was “We can do whatever the f_ _ _ we want.” Obviously. We should not be surprised at this response. The government system of unaccountability encourages this attitude.
Thus, it should also come as no surprise that a majority of Canadians surveyed do NOT have a great deal of confidence in the police.
Not all police officers are bad people. I know one personally – great guy, helpful, courteous, generous, dependable, easygoing, good family man, good friend. I am glad to know him. Similarly, I am sure there are many other cops who are decent people. But that is not the point. The system within which they operate creates perverse incentives. Perhaps the best of them are immune to these incentives, but even some of the good ones get corrupted. It is human nature to alter our behaviour when we are granted a free pass for our actions. A policy of unaccountability gives rise to perverse incentives.
What about the good officer who is sickened by the behaviour of a bad colleague? He is helpless. He can do nothing, because he is trapped in a system which, by design, facilitates bad behaviour.
If I am held accountable for my mistakes, I have an incentive to avoid mistakes. But if other people are forced to pay for my mistakes, my incentive disappears and I make more mistakes. This is a concept a ten-year-old can understand.