Philly Police-Involved Shootings Cost Taxpayers Millions

City paying big bucks to pay off police shooting lawsuits

Civil lawsuits filed over police-involved shootings in Philadelphia are costing the city, and hence taxpayers, millions of dollars every year.

In the past five years, the city paid out $11.6 million in police shooting settlements, according to budget data obtained by The two highest payouts, which total $4 million, were handed out this fiscal year – stretching from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2013.

The city settled with Stephen Moore this February for $2.5 million. Moore was shot inside his Southwest Philadelphia home in November 2011 by Philadelphia Police Officer Larry Shields.

Police said Shields entered the home to investigate a report of a burglary and some sort of confrontation took place between the two men. Shields then fired one shot, hitting the homeowner in the arm and chest. Moore was critically injured.

John James got a $1.5 million payout last November after being shot during a September 2009 incident involving former hero officer Richard DeCoatsworth.

James was accused of trying to run down DeCoatsworth and another officer after being stopped on a motorcycle. DeCoatsworth fired at James, hitting him in the leg as he fled the scene. Police later found him in the hospital after being taken there by his mother.

James was acquitted of assault charges and given probation for reckless endangerment and fleeing an officer. DeCoatsworth is now in prison, charged with raping two women at gunpoint and assaulting his girlfriend.

Police-involved shootings have been a hot topic in Philadelphia recently.

In three separate incidents Wednesday, police officers discharged their weapons. In one instance in the Germantown section of the city, a child was grazed by a bullet. Police are trying to determine whether an officer’s bullet or suspects' caused the graze wound. In all, there were seven police-involved shootings in the past week.

The shootings happened at the same time Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey petitioned the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to study the department’s police shooting policies and procedures. The division completed a similar study for the Las Vegas Police Department last year.

The number of people hurt in police-involved shootings has been fluctuating over the past three years. In 2011, there were 35. In 2012, Philadelphia Police shot 52 suspects, killing 15 of them, according to the department.

So far this year, the numbers are not quite as high. There have been 22 police-involved shootings to date, down from 28 at this time last year.

By comparison, Chicago, with twice the number of residents, tallied the same number of police shootings as Philadelphia in 2012, according to the City of Chicago Independent Police Review Authority.

At a press conference Friday, Commissioner Ramsey released surveillance video from Wednesday's shooting in Germantown.

After showing the video of the suspect repeatedly firing at an officer and him returning fire, Ramsey characterized it as the new reality police now face on the streets of Philadelphia.

"We don't start the tour of duty wanting to shoot anyone, but also understanding the risks and dangers that are out there," he said. "And officers are prepared to deal and meet these particular types of challenges."

Mayor Michael Nutter took a more defiant tone, calling the number of suspects engaging officers in gunfire "overwhelming."

"Whether it's one in a day, three in a day, whatever; if people point a gun at a Philadelphia Police Officer, you have a high probability you're going to be shot," he said.

Nutter chastised news outlets for counting the number of people shot in police-involved shootings saying the injuries are a result of threats to police officers.

"With the level of firepower on the streets of our city, I expect our officers to protect themselves first and protect members of the public as soon as they possibly can," he said.

Police-involved shootings are not the only police related cases Philadelphia has paid to settle. Adding in other incidents, like excessive force and false arrest, the city has paid out at least $12 million this fiscal year.

For the year before, police legal settlements totaled $16 million, according to budget data.

Mark McDonald, press secretary for Mayor Michael Nutter, says the city is self-insured for these incidents and that the city keeps an indemnity budget to cover legal payouts.

McDonald says the current indemnity allotment is $35 million -- covering all claims against city government. Settlements on behalf of the police department account for more than a third of the payouts.

Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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