Oct 2, 2023 - News

Police misconduct costing taxpayers millions in settlement money

Police from Denver and Aurora stand ready to disperse the crowd by force during a protest in downtown Denver on May 30, 2020. Photo: AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Police misconduct during the 2020 George Floyd protests is costing Denver taxpayers millions of dollars.

Driving the news: A $550,000 check for a settlement approved by Denver City Council was sent last week to a man who says he lost an eye after he was struck by a so-called rubber bullet during the protests.

  • It's the 19th settlement related to the protests paid out by the city, according to city data.

Why it matters: The payouts are a stark reminder of how Denver police mishandled their duties during the protests, which saw thousands of people march against police violence after Floyd's murder.

  • Their problematic response was highlighted in a 2020 report compiled by the city's law enforcement watchdog.

By the numbers: The city has paid $10.3 million since 2022 to settle lawsuits filed against police over their actions in 2020.

Context: The total amount is more than what Mayor Mike Johnston has budgeted to recruit 167 new police officers ($8.2 million) for his 2024 spending plan, unveiled last week.

Zoom in: Money for the settlements comes from a specific city pot called the Liability Claims Fund, city finance department spokesperson Laura Swartz tells us.

  • The fund is made up of sales tax, property taxes and other revenue sources like permit fees. It's used for any claims against the city, including personal injury or property damage.

What they're saying: Denver police in a statement to Axios called the circumstances around protests "extraordinary" and added that the protests revealed "opportunities for improvement in policies, training, and procedures."

  • The agency has stopped using so-called "less lethal" equipment like sponge grenades for crowd control and now requires its officers to get additional crowd control response training.

The big picture: Denver's payouts are among the highest in the country for police misconduct during the 2020 protests.

  • Larger cities like New York ($13 million) and Philadelphia ($9.3 million) have also settled over similar cases.

Go deeper: The total settlement amount does not include the $14 million the city was ordered to pay to protesters by a federal jury last year.

  • The city plans to appeal that settlement.
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