Colorado’s biggest police union creating plan to shield officers from $25,000 liability under new police accountability law

Colorado’s largest police union is working to create new liability coverage that will protect its members from paying from their personal pocketbooks if found liable for excessive force lawsuit settlements under the state’s police accountability law passed in June.

The Colorado Fraternal Order of Police announced a plan this week that would cover officers’ liability of up to $25,000. The union’s leadership gave preliminary approval to the new coverage, though each of the individual lodges in the state that represent about 8,000 law enforcement officers will have to vote to finalize the plan.

“With the political climate in the state and nationally towards police, the presence of the ACLU and the fear the Executive Board has heard from both local lodge leaders and members directly asking for a plan, we encourage all local lodges to vote in the affirmative to move this forward,” Stephen Schulz, president of the Colorado FOP, wrote in an announcement about the coverage. The organization did not respond to calls or an email requesting an interview for this story.

The change comes as Colorado law enforcement grapple with the implications of the new law, which states an officer could be on the hook for 5% of any settlement or judgment, up to $25,000, reached in a civil lawsuit over their actions if their employer finds they acted in bad faith. The new provisions were signed into law in June in the wake of weeks of protests over police brutality and racism.

Leaders of police departments and unions warned that the change would cause officers to leave their jobs, though its unclear to what extent that has happened. Some cities, like Greenwood Village, have adopted measures stating officials there will never find an officer to have acted in bad faith, essentially shielding cops from personal financial liability.

“The officer doesn’t have to worry about having $25,000 assessed against him because he’ll be insured” if the new program is approved, said Mike Britton, vice president of the Denver Sheriff’s FOP lodge. “It’s just like a doctor. That’s what it’s gotten to. We as a union feel like we need to protect our members.”

As proposed, the FOP’s added coverage would cost $7 a month per member, which would bring monthly dues for the legal defense program up to $30 a month. If approved, it would tentatively begin in October.

The change has also prompted entrepreneurship from insurance companies looking to sell a new product.

“It was sort of amazing to me that police officers didn’t have any liability at all before and that municipalities were paying 99.9% of the judgments,” said Jeff Harrison, president of Prymus Insurance.

The Texas-based insurance firm is talking with Colorado lawmakers, city leaders and police associations about a liability insurance program they are creating for officers, Harrison said.

Personal insurance is the best route because prices will respond to an officers’ actions. If an officer is named in multiple suits, his or her premium will rise, he said. If they complete risk-reduction training, or go years without a complaint, the price could drop, he said.

“It should be like getting car insurance,” Harrison said.

The company’s insurance should be for sale in the next few weeks, Harrison said, and will likely cost between $40 and $50 a month. The roll out of the program has been delayed because the company’s actuaries have struggled to gather comprehensive data on lawsuit settlements in Colorado and across the country.

“How do you price risk when you don’t even know what it is?” Harrison said.

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