by Maura R. O’Connor

“‘All of us have noticed a huge increase in lawsuits against police,’ said Joel Berger, a civil rights attorney for 45 years who was a senior litigator with city’s Law Department from 1988 to 1996.  ‘People are going to the [Civilian Complaint Review Board] less and going to the courts more.  The city is overloaded with complaints and lawsuits.’ (The Mayor’s Management Report shows a 25 percent decrease in Civilian Complaint Review Board cases since the previous edition, to 5,724 last year.)

“‘Whether it’s stop and frisk, marijuana arrests, trespassing—this stuff is completely out of control,’ said Berger.

*  *  *  *

“In its 2011 bi-annual report on legal claims, the Comptroller’s Office recommended that the police department begin pilot programs to reduce risk and the costs of litigation.  The number of claims, the report said, represent a ‘growing area of concern.’

“In response to the rise, the city has been lawyering up, increasing the size of its Special Federal Litigation Unit staff from 92 to 127.  Rose Weber, a plaintiffs’ attorney who previously worked for the Law Department, says she saw a clear shift in the city’s posture as the number of lawyers boomed.  ‘They got really cocky, saying we’re not going to settle, we’re going to take them to trial,’ said Weber.

“However, the city’s eagerness to file motions for dismissal of cases angered some judges, according to Weber.  ‘In two of my cases, the judges were furious.  In one, the judge threatened sanctions.  I think the city decided ‘let’s pull back on that strategy’ once they saw they were not going to get them all thrown out,’ she said.

*  *  *  *

“‘It is absolutely absurd to respond to an increase in lawsuits by simply hiring more lawyers and defending to the hilt,’ he said.  ‘That is such poor public policy.  What they should be doing is asking themselves, ‘Why?’'”

A great piece on the indirect problems caused by rampant police abuse, though I wish the final point had received more attention:  why, since this is such a problem, is the city not doing more to correct illegal behavior by officers?  Every time an officer decides to assault a bystander, or arrest someone he just ran over with a motorscooter, or kill an unarmed driver, this merely corrodes what little public trust may still exist for the NYPD and city government as a whole.

Gothamist also covered the story (here), which article includes a perfunctory damage-control reply from the Law Department.

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