You would think that how much a city pays in police misconduct settlements would correlate to the size of its police force. Such is not the case, according to information obtained by KTVU.
One thing that is lost in the defund the police discourse is that a ton of taxpayer money can also be saved with independent police oversight. That is, those communities with independent oversight bodies end up paying out a whole lot less in million-dollar settlements for embarrassing, terrible police behavior. That’s the lesson we can take from a new KTVU investigation into how much Bay Area police departments pay in use-of-force settlements, which shows great progress among some agencies, and the bad results you would expect from some others.
Larger police forces do not necessarily correlate with higher amounts in excessive force and wrongful death civil settlements. The San Francisco Police Department, for instance, has 2,000 officers, but paid out $2.6 million in such settlements between 2015 and 2020. The San Jose Police Department, which has only about 1,000 officers, paid about seven times more ($17.5 million) over the same period, according to data obtained by KTVU.
And credit where credit is due — the San Francisco and Oakland police departments have significantly cleaned up their acts in this regard, despite that both still have shaky reputations. “The San Francisco Police Department, with almost 2,000 officers, paid $2.6 million while the Oakland Police Department, with close to 800 officers, paid just over $3 million,” KTVU found. “In 2011, a KTVU investigation found Oakland police paid $57 million and San Francisco police paid $28 million between 2000 and 2010 — the two highest in the Bay Area.”
But also, shame where shame is due. If you guessed that the infamous Vallejo Police Department would be near the top of the list for police misconduct settlements, you would be absolutely correct. They spent the whole summer in the headlines over the Sean Monterrosa shootings, which is only one of 20 pending civil cases that could cost the city as much as $50 million. Vallejo has paid out $6.5 million in the last five years, despite having only around 100 officers, for the highest per-officer payout rate in the Bay Area.
But they are not the law enforcement group who have generated the largest amount in excessive force and wrongful death settlements. That distinction goes to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office, known here in the city for a $5.5 million settlement for a brutal 2015 beating of a 29-year-old in the Mission. That department has generated $27.6 million in victim settlements since 2015.
Here’s the complete list of how much has been paid in settlements since 2015 for each Bay Area law enforcement group:
Alameda County Sheriff: $27.6 million
San Jose Police: $17.5 million
Santa Clara Sheriff: $9 million
Vallejo Police: $6.5 million
BART Police: $5.4 million
Hayward Police: $3.3 million
Oakland Police: $3 million
San Francisco Police: $2.6 million
CHP Golden Gate: $2.5 million
San Mateo County Sheriff: $2.5 million
Contra Costa County Sheriff: $1.5 million
To add the human perspective to these numbers, KTVU has an accompanying report on the victims of these wrongful death cases.
Image: Alameda County Sheriff’s Office via Facebook