Hold police to a higher standard


To the editor:

(re: “Biaggi misunderstands the needs of the NYPD,” July 30)

I’m writing in response to a letter to the editor recently published in The Riverdale Press. I would like to set the record straight on the truth about my proposal to require New York’s law enforcement officers to carry personal liability insurance, in bill S.8676.

Every year, cities across New York state spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars covering claims of misconduct against police officers — misconduct such as the use of excessive force or the violation of a New Yorker’s civil rights. Between July 2017 and June 2018, New York City alone paid out $230 million in nearly 6,500 cases.

When taxpayers bail out law enforcement who engage in misconduct, those officers too often evade meaningful accountability.

My legislation will require every officer — including state and local law enforcement — to obtain personal liability insurance to cover any claims against them for acts or omissions that occur during any period of time that such officer is performing duties within the scope of their employment. This proposal builds on the existing role insurance companies already play in regulating police behavior at the municipal level.

As for affordability, the municipal or state entities that employ these officers will be required to cover the base rate of the policy. Officers who have misconduct claims brought against them may see their premium go up, and will be required to pay those costs.

The purpose of this bill is to establish a financial disincentive for police misconduct, and create accountability for abhorrent behavior.

The author argues no insurer would cover intentional acts, and yet that’s precisely what New York municipalities do every year, indemnifying nearly every penny paid resulting from officer misconduct.

To the idea that this will open the floodgates for mandatory liability insurance, we can all recognize that police — who have authority to engage in lethal use of force when appropriate — are unique from every other type of job.

Furthermore, what I am proposing is not a novel idea: Doctors and nurses, hairdressers and barbers, legal professionals among others hold some form of personal liability insurance. Why should we hold law enforcement to a lower standard?

The author alleged that the “real” reason I proposed this legislation was to surreptitiously lower police recruitment. If this bill deters recruits who are unwilling to accept the responsibility and accountability for the protection of human life, then yes, it will lower recruitment of those individuals. Being a police office is not a right — it’s a privilege.

I am the proud granddaughter of one of the most decorated police officers in New York Police Department history. I have witnessed first hand the brave sacrifices made by officers dedicated to serving their communities. It is my grandfather’s public service that, in large part, inspired me to seek elected office.

The New York state legislature exists to fix what is broken. Blindly standing by an institution that is not working does not make you a better defender of that institution. Holding it to the highest standard of integrity does.

Furthermore, I do not introduce legislation as a stunt. I introduce legislation because I was elected by the constituents of the 34th Senatorial District to represent and serve them. I introduce legislation when it is necessary to protect constituents and advance the promise on which this state was founded: A place for all people yearning to breathe free.

I introduce legislation to hold New York to the highest level of excellence.

The truth is Black New Yorkers are paying for the bad behavior of police officers with their lives. We must be brave enough to overhaul our law enforcement system and re-imagine how we think about public safety.

For all of us.

Alessandra Biaggi

The author is the state senator representing the 34th District, which includes Riverdale, Spuyten Duyvil and parts of Kingsbridge.

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Alessandra Biaggi,