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The costs of police confrontations with citizens are mounting in U.S. cities, forcing many to spend millions more on training and some to seek tax increases to pay for federally mandated reforms in departments that used excessive force.
New Orleans voters in April will consider raising property taxes to pay the costs of a 2010 consent decree, one of 16 enforced by the Justice Department in the past six years. Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson on Feb. 1 proposed a half-percentage point increase in the local income tax to improve policing, after a 2015 decree that will cost $10.6 million this year and a projected $7.1 million in each of the next four years, city documents show.
Unlike the 1990s, when the federal government provided large grants to police departments for crime fighting, the costs of misbehavior are now borne by municipalities.
"There's never been a concerted national effort to really spend a lot of money to address police misconduct," said Stephen Rushin, a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law who studies consent decrees. "We're finally coming to the recognition that correcting police misconduct is an expensive proposition."
Los Angeles has seen its payouts for cases involving excessive or unlawful use of force and civil-rights violations reach $23.6 million for the fiscal year ended June 30 from $4.6 million in the year ended June 30 2012, according to records provided by the city attorney's office.
City Councilman Mitchell Englander, the chairman of the public safety committee, said the city often settles cases even when they lack merit to eliminate the risk of going to court.