I can honestly say that as an adult, being raised on the TV shows “Cops” and “Law and Order: SVU” did nothing but set me up for a lot of heartache later in life. I was fed a steady diet of watching every single police officer play things fair and square—and if they did break the rules, it was all because of their inborn need to serve the greater intent of justice found in our laws. This did not ground me in the realities of how life works.

Cops are human. Cops are fallible. Cops make mistakes like you and I do. However, there is one major difference between cops and the citizens they’ve sworn to protect: if the police fuck-up and violate someone’s rights, they won’t be held financially accountable for it. Instead, the victims themselves, along with their friends and families, will ultimately end up footing the bill for the settlement through the collection of their taxes.

And sadly, all we have to do is look at our own home state to see this happening in real life.

In May of this year, Colorado set an incredibly grim record when a $19 million judgment was awarded to the family of Christian Glass for being murdered by the police. Glass, 22, was shot dead by police officers in June last year near the town of Silver Plume after he refused to leave his crashed car due to a mental health episode after seeking help on a 911 call.

The settlement will be paid by the state of Colorado along with Clear Creek County, the town of Georgetown, and the city of Idaho Springs. Basically, all of his loved ones who live in those areas are on the hook.

And this isn’t the only time a financial settlement of note was made against Colorado law enforcement this year. Enter the “$1 Trial Of The Decade.

In 2023, 33-year-old Christopher Mosley became the first person to successfully sue a police officer under the state’s Enhance Law Enforcement Integrity Act, passed as part of Senate Bill 20-217, in response to the George Floyd and Elijah McClain protests.

Mosley sued Aurora Police Officer Brendan Daves for violating his civil rights when Daves searched Mosley’s car without a legal justification. Mosley was driving to his home in Aurora on April 25, 2021, when he was pulled over for not having license plates on his car. Instead of writing Mosley a ticket or deciding to have his car towed, Daves asked him to sit on the curb and then searched Mosley’s car without consent.

After a three-day trial, it took a jury just two hours to side with Mosley and award him the $1 he asked for.

In reality, the amount sought by the victim was to prove a point more so than anything else … which makes this case a rare outlier. When you look at the national statistics, you realize quickly just how vast the number of lawsuits and amount of money paid out in settlements has become due to the proliferation of civil rights violations like the one Mosley experienced.

In 2022 the Washington Post released the numbers concerning the amount of money spent over the last decade on police misconduct settlements, and the results were breathtaking. The Post collected data on nearly 40,000 payments at 25 of the nation’s largest police and sheriff’s departments and found more than $3.2 billion was spent to settle claims. These payments stemmed from the alleged misconduct of over 7,600 officers nationwide.

These numbers are in the realm of “epidemic.”

Given how intertwined the financial aspects of law enforcement are with taxes and public funding, it seems like this is how it will always have to be.

I disagree. I think it’s time that state and local lawmakers look at holding police officers accountable for their misconduct much in the same way they do when it comes to lawyers: through malpractice litigation.

Between the incredible amount of nuance found in legal verbiage and the ever-present potential of human error, even lawyers know that it’s possible for them to make a huge mistake and cost someone their livelihood. It’s for these reasons that the ability for attorneys—including public defenders—to be sued over legal malpractice exists.

This begs the question; if public defenders themselves can be sued for malpractice, and law enforcement is paid for from the same tax system, then why can’t the police be held accountable in the same way?

Since legal malpractice insurance is available in all 50 states, I’m sure that getting law enforcement insurance set up wouldn’t be too difficult with the infrastructure already in place. I also think if more police officers had to pay millions of dollars in settlements out of pocket, this kind of coverage would sell like hotcakes. This kind of insurance would also help free up millions of tax dollars that could go to police-community outreach programs. Or maybe with the Covid expansion for SNAP benefits expiring earlier this year—causing loss of benefits to 500,000 Colorado families—those tax dollars could help go to feeding those in need.

The current system is a mess. It’s a lot like being sued by McDonald’s for getting food poisoning from a meal they served you. At the end of the day, I believe our taxes should pay for police officers to do their job competently, and not be used to bail them out when they act like a dip-ass and seriously shit-hammer someone (and/or their rights).