Police Officers Should Be Held Personally Financially Liable For Their Misconduct - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Randolph Franklin

Randolph Franklin, founder of the Community Council for Police Accountability, is a former United States Infantry Marine and a 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. He lives in Hawaii.


If you want to get rid of the weeds in your yard, you cannot merely pull them from the surface and think they are gone and that you have fixed the problem. Until you remove and kill the roots of the weeds, you can count on seeing and pulling them again — next week, the week after that and the week after that.

This same temporary, surface approach applies to police reform. For the past 50 years, we have talked about and have taken the same approach to police reform.

When police misconduct happens, society yanks at it as it pops up. When the Breonna Taylors, George Floyds and Elijah McClains of the world get killed, we get upset and we march.

The incident fades for a moment, until the next person gets killed or beaten, then society pulls at the weeds again by creating hashtags like “I can’t breathe” or forming foundations like Black Lives Matter.

While these are valiant attempts at making things look and sound better, they have not brought, nor will they ever bring, reform. The key to rooting out (or at least greatly reducing) police misconduct is real police reform through real police accountability.

We have to address the police officers and the agencies that supervise them by creating deterrents to misconduct.

Black Lives matter Peaceful Protest supporters head to the Duke Kahanamoku Statue.
Black Lives Matter marchers head into Waikiki during a protest earlier this year. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Where do we start? First, we need to ask some hard questions like: What do we do with police officers who believe that police department regulations and policies are just guidelines for the stupid?

What do we do with officers who believe they are above the law they have been entrusted to enforce?

What do we do with officers who cherry-pick and only enforce those laws they think are correct because the officers think they know more than the legislative branch that enacted the laws?

How do we control a police officer who has nothing to lose financially during a civil suit that comes about as the result of his or her misconduct?

Bad behavior and misconduct keep recurring because police officers are rarely, if ever, held accountable. They know all financial damages awarded to victims or victims’ families in the civil suits that arise from their bad behavior are placed on the backs of the taxpayers who fund the agencies they work for.

I personally asked myself those questions over the 30 years I worked as a City of Los Angeles police officer and supervisor. During that time, I fully understood that the taxpayers paid our salary, provided us with excellent benefits and bought us all the neat equipment that made us safe and look cool.

What I did not understand was why those same taxpayers also had to suffer the indignity and financial burden of officer misconduct. These types of lawsuits cost the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars each year, money that could have been used for education and other social programs.

While I wholeheartedly believe police officers are necessary to maintain order and safety in society, I also believe they should perform their jobs fairly, impartially and without prejudice.

Police officers should be guided by their department regulations and policies, not by emotions or personal bias. They should not be in the business of what is right or wrong but in the business of what is legal and illegal.

I know that this simple concept is very hard for some police officers. They let their emotions get the best of them, which more than likely is what has led to the personnel complaints, civil suits and taxpayer payouts.

I never understood why police officers think that the public needs to love them for them to do their job properly. I would like to tell those officers what I used to tell my officers, “We are not the Fire Department.”

After years of pondering this problem, I have concluded the best ways to mitigate police misconduct and its effect on society and the taxpayer wallet is to tackle police misconduct at the root.

 

What’s at the core of police reform? Police accountability.

How do we hold police accountable?

I’ll briefly outline a few of my many ideas here. Real accountability will involve multiple steps.

Steps Toward Better Police Accountability

I believe the first step toward behavior modification should be financial.

Why should the taxpayers alone bear the costs of police misconduct? They shouldn’t.

I believe that all risks should be insurable, and therefore the offending officer should be made to carry some of the cost also.  To achieve this, all officers should be mandated nationwide to carry a supplemental professional liability insurance policy for misconduct.

This insurance will not only offset the costs resulting from police misconduct and lawsuit settlements, it will also serve to correct the cavalier mindsets that some officers have developed from knowing they shared no financial consequences for bad behavior.

Just as our auto insurance premium costs are tied to the number of claims we have, an officer’s annual liability insurance premium should be based on the number of loss payments incurred as a result of his or her misconduct.

Sherwood forest supporters hold sign fronting HPD bike cops after some supporters were arrested for allegedly blocking construction equipment.
Transparency is critical to police accountability and reform. Police officers should give a business card identifying themselves to every person they make contact with. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

 

The next step to reform and accountability should be transparency.

Departments should provide officers with generic business cards and require officers to issue those cards upon contact with members of the public or when asked.

The cards should identify the officer’s name and serial number, not badge number, and should provide blank space for the date, time, incident number, the reason why the officer made contact with the individual and any other relevant information.

If officers know they can be clearly identified and associated with a particular contact, they may give more thought to their conduct during the contact. And, since not all police contacts involve bad behavior or misconduct, business cards also provide members of the public with a telephone number to call and a way to give the police department positive feedback about officers.

Transparency is good for improving community relations, and good community relations are the key to reform.

Other reform approaches are things like creating a holstering and un-holstering policy, where an officer has to be able to justify each time his or her gun leaves its holster; or requiring that an officer’s training records become accessible to the public, so that the public can determine whether an officer lacked training or failed to utilize proper training during incidents.

Another step toward reform is implementing an independent board that would review, for fairness and/or impropriety, all cases involving the investigation and discipline of officers accused of misconduct. The board would also review, for fairness and/or impropriety, the work of the investigating complaint supervisor during the initial investigation of misconduct.

These are simple changes to start us down the road to reform and accountability. It’s time for us to stop reacting to misconduct and to begin to be proactive. Protests are great, and they have served as change agents for many injustices throughout the years, but we the people have the power to insist that changes be made.

We don’t need signs and T-shirts asking the police to treat us better or reminding them that we matter. We vote and pay taxes, that is where our real power lies.

We are not anti-police. We recognize police officers are necessary to maintain a society of law and order. However, we the people will not continue paying for the lawlessness of bad apples.

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We will not tolerate being treated without respect and dignity. We will no longer remain in the dark to the operations of police departments. We want to know the identities of officers we encounter.

We want them to think twice before harming or killing another unarmed person because of bias or unchecked emotion. We want them to think twice before riding roughshod over the civil liberties and basic rights of the very people they have sworn to protect.

In other words, we want them to do the job we pay them to do.

Finally, we can hope and pray that systemic racism is not in the weeds of the police department. Unfortunately, bigotry and racism are present in every culture and organization.

In most cases, no laws, mandates or policy reforms can change the hearts or beliefs of those who are bigoted or racist, but we can demand and insist on consequences that are detrimental enough to help identify those people and regulate their behavior

That’s all we want: better behavior, reform and accountability from the people who are sworn to protect and serve us. And if we eradicate a few weeds in the process, all the better.

Join IDEAS Editor Julia Steele every Wednesday for a new weekly Facebook Live show that will explore solutions to Hawaii’s most pressing problems. The show will air at 2 p.m. Wednesdays on Civil Beat’s Facebook page. 


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About the Author

Randolph Franklin

Randolph Franklin, founder of the Community Council for Police Accountability, is a former United States Infantry Marine and a 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. He lives in Hawaii.


Latest Comments (0)

I was a Police Officer for 37 years, sued 3 times.  The result - three summary judgements in Federal Court (Sorry, you do not get to say the judge was my relative) in my favor.  Do people sue the Police for no good reason - spoiler alert YES!  This is the dumbest thing ever unless you want to create a force of officers who never give citations, never make arrests because the dumb Police are smart enough to know you actually will never get sued if you never take action (well until a victim sues because you failed to protect them).

TheAdvocate · 10 months ago

Before writing a column I suggest you do your research first.  It seems like you do not know the Honolulu Police Department's policies regarding contact cards or their "holstering/unholstering" policy.  It is the HPD's policy that officers must provide their name and badge number verbally and in writing when requested.  HPD officers also have report number cards that has the date, report number, name of the officer and which station they work out of.  So your "business card" idea is moot.  Secondly, it is in the HPD's policy that officers need to justify when they unholster their weapon and articulate why.  Anytime an officer unholsters their weapon they need to do a Use of Force report, whether or not an actual criminal report was made.  So your "holster/unholster" policy idea is already a policy within the HPD.  And the HPD goes even further, they require all officers to do a Use of Force report anytime they unholster any tools (ie. OC spray, baton, Taser), not only when they unholster their gun.  Seems like you're trying to take your anger regarding other police departments from the mainland on the HPD.  

makaiolani808 · 10 months ago

Is it just me or does it seem that the laws help those that are shady more than an honest citizen !

CFood · 10 months ago

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