I read an interesting article today about the Insurance Journal (of course) about plans to reform law enforcement in Minneapolis. What interested me most was that some groups advocated that police officers should have professional liability insurance. You can read that article here.
Let's explore this concept. For this discussion, we will keep it as simple as possible by focusing solely on local law enforcement, a city police department.
I will make two assumptions to begin with. First, the companies that currently write municipal responsibility (which includes legislative responsibility) will be the companies that are best suited to write responsibility for individual officials. This may not be the best assumption, since insurance companies like to change as much as you do (maybe a little less). But we will go with it.
The second assumption is that the coverage will look substantially similar to the coverage of the municipality's current coverage. This may not be a good assumption, but let's run with it and see what happens. Besides, what are the practical problems of converting a responsibility program from and organizational level to individual level?
Who needs to wear coverage?
This is not a rhetorical question. This is a matter that must be carefully considered. Are we talking about every employee in the police department? We can see that the patrolman, who works with traffic inspection, may need professional responsibility as that officer drives around and interacts with the community. Admittedly not in my favorite way, but it is a different story.
The SWAT team member will certainly need coverage and it will be coverage unique to their job as it is part of the team name, "special". They do things that others do not. So we get that they will have to carry coverage.
How about the official assigned to desk service? Do they need coverage? Their interaction seems to be the public entering the police station, perhaps helping people with questions, answering the phone, filing some paperwork. Maybe this is not a thing anymore and all the police are out in the public at all times. I doubt it, but maybe.
What if the municipality has a prison that is under the jurisdiction of the local police department? I can imagine that these officers may need prison coverage. After all, they have imprisoned individuals. They would certainly need some form of coverage that includes transporting people from one facility to another, for example to county jail, court or possibly to a state facility.
A local police department near me hires many different uniformed jobs. The job includes police and state administrators, all of whom are uniformed, sworn law enforcement officials, who will need coverage. There are some other jobs that the department marks as civilian jobs (but still employed by the police and will drive official vehicles and wear uniforms). These jobs include school guard and official. Since they have daily interactions with the public, they must have insurance too, right?
Who has to pay for coverage?
It is a good question as to whether we use this insurance as a way to modify and control certain behaviors (since we who handle the risks of people acting wrongly), it only makes sense to get officials to pay for their own professional liability insurance.
That's good, right? I mean, then, that the city doesn't have to keep paying for its exposure now, right? Not exactly. The city will still need to maintain its own liability insurance to cover its exposures as they are still employed by the city. This means that the city can still be held responsible for what the employees do. The costs of the city's insurance program will not fall, even if they cause officials to carry their own liability insurance.
Let's get back to the idea that officials pay for their own insurance. How will it work? This is not as simple as suddenly there is this new policy or city ordinance that requires the police to buy their own individual liability policy and suddenly every officer goes to their local police insurance agency to buy insurance.
When this thing happens, someone will have to find the operator who will be willing to write this policy. Since we already mentioned that there may already be a market, we can forget about this point for a moment. This will be a change in the conditions of employment of the officials. Does this become something that current officers do not have to do and it is only for new hires? Would this be something the city would have to negotiate with the police union? If this becomes a requirement, what happens if there is a bottling period? Is that official suspended or placed on a desk?
What if the official can't afford coverage? Does this simply mean that they are no longer eligible for police, or does it depend on why their coverage is more expensive? Will it cost more for a beginner? How much of the cost really depends on the individual official and how much depends on the quality of the police department overall? Will complaints about that department raise the price of individual officials?
I have so many more questions about how this would work, but I think it suffices for now. I don't necessarily think this is a terrible idea. I think a better idea would be to have a risk manager involved in the police department who can help educate the department in best practices and help guide the department on better ways of managing its operations. I also think it requires patience and caution because no one likes it when an outsider comes in to tell them how to do their job.
Is that a good idea? Perhaps. Let's wait and see what the policy looks like.
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