Baltimore to leave its cops on the hook for civil suit payouts

Police officers working in Baltimore have always been able to rely on the financial backing of the city when the courts demanded payouts for wrongful death or police brutality suits, but that could soon change.

According to the Forward Observer, Baltimore's police union has cautioned its members that individual officers may soon be responsible for paying damages to litigants that have won suits for police brutality, wrongful deaths or other wrongdoings they undertook in the line of duty.

It's not unusual for police departments or police officers to be named in a civil suit. In most instances, such cases end with the officers in question being freed of any liability, due to the fact that they were doing their jobs within the confines of the law, or that they were found not guilty by a jury or a residing judge. However, if an officer is found guilty, the punitive damages awarded to the victim are usually paid out from the coffers of the city or agency that the officer works for. That Baltimore will be leaving its police officers on the hook for damages awarded in civil suits where they're named is unusual, and could have some serious ramifications for how the city is policed.

Baltimore's new policy could make malicious, heavy-handed cops think twice before using force, deadly or otherwise, in the line of duty. Where ethics and humanity have failed to curb their violence, a serious hit to their wallets could do the trick. But there's a downside to this, as well: not all police officers have it in for the communities that they've sworn to protect. Many care as deeply for their fellow citizens as they do about coming home to their families at night. It could be difficult to attract or keep good cops to a city where they might have to think twice before using necessary force in the line of their duties, for fear of financial repercussions.

Image: GoBlue85 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,