The practice sounds a bit counter intuitive (to me) and I'd like to know if there is a logic behind it and what that logic is.
I understand paying for their services. What I don't understand is paying when they are acting outside the law (as in murder, rape, torture, illegal detention. Things that are illegal for both civilians and police officers)
The way I see it (from my narrow point of view) is like paying (money) for a dangerous job like cutting a tree. If the guy drops branches on my house and damages it, he (or his insurance) will be paying for the damages not me, no matter how dangerous the job is.
To clarify what I mean by "paying for police officers' transgressions", it's money paid by the government (from people's budget) in case of a successful lawsuit if an officer has mistreated (illegally) a civilian.

I am not trying to have a debate about whether the police officers are or are not guilty in certain cases. I am asking about the few cases where they are clearly breaking the laws and their own department's code of conduct. Cases where courts and juries find them guilty.
I don't know why I get answers about how cops are right and their victims are wrong, or how cops have the right to be wrong. The question is strictly about the source of the payment made to the victims

  • 5
    Do you mean "pay" financially, politically, or some other way?
    – Geobits
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 13:34
  • 12
    I have no idea what you refer to here - pay how? Pay what?. Can you give an example? Is this some recent news item in your country?
    – pipe
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 16:30
  • 1
    What circumstances are you referring to when a police officer acts "outside the law"? Also, in your analogy, keep in mind the tree is not likely to be armed and/or potentially out to explicitly attack the tree-cutter for doing their job.
    – BruceWayne
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 17:26
  • 2
    Many (most?) municipalities purchase insurance policies that cover this sort of loss (damages/costs paid to an individual that is adversely affected by a governmental agent/action), just like your example of the tree service.
    – Rob
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 17:28
  • 1
    It's been suggested that if police pay for transgressions out of their pension fund, then the bad actors would be rooted out real quick.
    – Chloe
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 19:05

5 Answers 5


Because law enforcement is working on behalf of the government, at the government (and by extension, the people who pay for the government)'s request. And law enforcement is given a large measure of leeway on judgment because of the complexities and danger of the job. So rather than remove judgment from the police's mandate entirely (which would cost a whole crapload and may not even be possible), they pay the victims when the cop gets it wrong and file a grievance with the police union. It is by no means a great solution, but we haven't yet found a better one that people are willing to pay for.

  • We have found a better solution, and people are willing to pay for it too. youtube.com/watch?v=PAeurucvtdk
    – Chloe
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 19:06
  • 1
    @Chloe It's highly debatable that PMCs constitute a truly better solution... At least until they demonstrate that the concept can be scaled up.
    – JS Lavertu
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 20:56
  • @Carduus "we haven't found a better one that people are willing to pay for". That's exactly my point. People are not willing to pay for the screwups. Only for the usefull services. Why would they have to take the bad with the good?
    – Alex Doe
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 17:49
  • 2
    @AlexDoe As I said, because we haven't found a better way. PMCs have the problems we have already observed with the prison system and standardized testing: private entities in a capitalist society are going to follow the rules you set out to the letter, cutting to the bare minimum where there aren't incentives, and inflating the parts where there are incentives. Okay, then neither of those. What do we do? No police at all? Hope everybody gets along?
    – Carduus
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 18:00
  • My suggestion (which I'd like to hear some feedback on) was to pay for their good services (incentive) and let them feel the consequences of their bad/uncalled for services (no incentives). Just because I don't agree with paying for a tree cutter's screwups doesn't mean I don't agree with the tree cutting practice altogether
    – Alex Doe
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 18:28

You are mixing up two different situations:

  1. An honest mistake of a police officer. He hears someone shoutting inside a house, fears a crime is happenning, and busts open the door.

    In the branch trimming example, the guy trimming the tree takes reasonable steps to ensure that your house is not damaged, but nonetheless a branch hits your house (mistakes do happen).

  2. A criminal action by a police officer. Someone has pissed him office so he breaks his door under the cover of his badge.

    Or, for criminally negligency, your tree trimmer begins working while drunk and does not secure the branches he is cutting, even if they are right over your house.

In both of these cases, the owner of the house may be entitled to damages to repair the door, and possible emotional issues.

In 1), it is in the state interest to foot the bill. If you want a police officer to act, you do not want him to ask himself if he can pay for the door if it happens that it is all a mistake.

In 2), it is usually the police officer who is condemned to pay for the damages. But, if the police officer cannot foot the bill, then somebody should pay your door. And the police officer was acting under the cover of his badge and uniform, that were provided by a state which failed to control him. That makes the state liable secondarily, to pay up the portion the officer cannot.

Additionally in 2), there may be a criminal case/internal investigation against the police officer, which may lead to the officer being reprimanded, aparted (temporalily of permanently) from the service, forced to pay a fine (which is different from damages) or even to serve jail time. That would fall completely on the officer's shoulders.

Of course, IRL this is compounded by the apparent resistance to raise criminal charges against police officers, which means that often these situations are considered under the assumption that they were honest mistakes and so only the damages1 part is covered. The heads of the PD and the responsable politicians may find paying the damages cheaper than going after the police officer just to get an small amount of money out of him and having to pay for the difference.

1 Also take into account that reporting might be biased: a news about a millionaire indemnity may get more coverage than the news that police officer was jailed because of an incident that happened a couple of years ago. In general statistics are better than personal impressions.

2 In terms of less media exposure, less internal tensions within the PD.

  • You said "In 2), it is usually the police officer who is condemned to pay for the damages". Do you know of any case where that has actually happened?
    – Alex Doe
    Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 13:49
  1. Responsibility.

    We the people vote in the people in government... who in turn both decide who to hire for police; as well as how to govern and train and meta-police said police.

    As such, "we the people" are where the buck ultimately stops. Literally, in case of this question.

  2. Incentives.

    The idea (sadly, not very effective) is that if enough taxpayer money is wasted on payouts for the police, then voters will be unhappy with governance and either pressure the government to improve policing, OR, elect someone else.

    (see NYC electing Giuliani to clean up crime).

  3. Insurance

    Police misconduct isn't necessarily an endemic problem. As such, it may very well be the most economically sounds solution to simply pay for the consequences of a few bad apples, rather than pay for ensuring there's no bad apples at all (which is near impossible in general, including in police).


If you were to employ a company to trim your trees, and one of their employees screws up, you will normally be compensated from the company, directly or indirectly. If you were to employ a police force to keep order, and one of their employees screws up, you would therefore expect to be compensated from the police force (or whoever is responsible for the police force).

If you were hiring one person, not part of a company, then the person would of course be liable. If you were hassled unjustly by one person not part of a police force, then that person would be liable. (Superhero comics tend to gloss over this point.) However, we invest police powers only in people who work for a police force.


Many things about how Policing works make much more sense if you assume they exist to:

  1. Protect property rights

  2. Maintain a state monopoly on force

  3. Enforce in-group norms against out-groups

  4. Enforce contrabrand rules

in roughly that order. Under this model, your "rights" are marketing mechanisms to encourage the populance to consent to the occupying professional police force, and Police stomping on "rights" is just a cost of doing their job.

Governments could hire and train Police that don't stomp on peoples "rights" nearly as much, but it would be expensive, require a different kind of recruit, and might get in the way of the above priorities.

It is cheaper and easier to just pay out some money to things that look bad enough in the media "rights" wise to keep the population from objecting too much.

  • Due to the high density of value judgments, I think this is indistinguishable in practice from an extremely pro-police explanation.
    – Grault
    Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 22:01
  • 1
    Can you provide an authoritative source which backs-up this answer? Answers should not be based in personal political views, but factually true. Commented Dec 11, 2018 at 4:36

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