ABOUT THIS EPISODE

There's an industry of people working to eliminate bad police behavior. They're not activists or protestors. They're insurers.
English
United States

TRANSCRIPT

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00:00:17Tony Miranda is the kind of police officer who makes you want to follow the rules because you just don't want to disappoint him not so much because you're scared of him physically I'm only like 5 6 and 1/2 5 7 out of the Academy I was 140 lb wet so I was challenged that on almost every stop every arrest in there like okay Officer take me to jail I like to see you do it into his career or Tony caught the attention of a nearby police department they wanted him to be the new police chief in Irwindale California just east of LA there's only 14 and a resident and a lot of them are 2nd and 3rd Generation Irwindale Ian's they've just been there forever. Lee people who move to Irwindale
00:01:17early leave it's this town where everyone seems to know each other and it has lots of perks for a town that size a modern rec center of really nice Parks their own little library and they are able to provide medical and and benefits for the resident meaning like if you're a resident of Irwindale the city gives you health insurance it's not comprehensive but it's something from your little cities are so there's a lot of civic pride in that little community in Irwindale one big caveat the city was known for the police department because it garnered the most news I'm in talking Front Page News News at 6 News at 5:11 and all negative we're talking about some
00:02:05serious ugly heinous crimes like one officer had been accused of sexually assaulting a woman during an early morning traffic stop another accused of embezzlement and it was a third officer it was under investigation for having sex with minors so I'm not even talking dark clouded past a black cloud over the whole community
00:02:33all of these scandals we're just taking an emotional toll on this tight-knit little town they were taking a financial told
00:02:41beach sandals cost Urbandale millions of dollars in legal fees and it wasn't just the city footing the bill that is what turned this from the police reform story that you usually hear what about protest and activists into an entirely different one a version we had never heard before hello and welcome to Planet Money I'm Karen Duffin and I'm Sarah Gonzales today on the show Tony Miranda goes to Irwindale he tries to fix the police department and he has a powerful Ally at his back this entire industry that puts a price tag on police Behavior a sort of Shadow regulator with the power to change Police Department's insurance this is the story of what happens when a police department can no longer afford its bad behavior
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00:04:32Tony Miranda never thought that it would be easy to clean up the Irwindale police department but as he walks into the building on his first day he starts to really understand what he's in for picture lowlights a building that was built in about 1985 bottle of the walls are cinder block they're all dark gray and there's no art posters or anything on the walls like this is really sad it's depressing in here there are a lot of basic things that most police departments should have like there are these things called mdt's they are these fancy computer screen type things that police have in their cars to track 911 calls tell them where to go what they're responding to Antonis asking his guys why are there only a few of these and a bunch of them broken and I said well if you're not using an NBT how do you get to call and one of the patrolman's holds up his palm and he says like this Chief and I look at his palm I'm going
00:05:30that's unacceptable and so I could see where your condo call scratch it out gone to a call and scratch it out he's brining the calls on his palm of his hand with his ink pen okay we are really starting from the bottom here and if we have any hope of fixing this this team will have to band together and those really bad officers the ones wrapped up in the expensive lawsuits they had either been fired or we're on leave while they were being investigated but if Tony wants to prevent any new problems he needs to fix the culture so there was a lot of internal affairs investigations there were 30 employees and 14 Internal Affairs investigations and these are not just people in the community complaining about bad cops these were cops complaining against other cops and administrators complaining against cops
00:06:30what makes this small-town great is also what has made it such a hard place to change everyone knows each other so when there's a fight in the police department the cop might just like call his uncle on the city council the fights there are entrenched and their personal almost tribal so Tony thinks we need some new blood he calls his leadership team together and tell them I'm hiring a new number two and it's not going to be any of you it was really quiet and and one Sergeant stand up and says you know what chief police officers Association not going to stand for that they're going to call 4 a.m. vote of no-confidence on me yeah the new guy fire this guy so Tony is standing there at home if it's 5 foot 6 self looking straight at a mutiny and this may have been where the story ended but Tony had more than his wits this time
00:07:30nose change is coming whether they like it or not because of their insurance Authority in some situations insurers have a lot of power over a police department most small or midsize police departments have some kind of insurance in part because Police Department's get sued all the time for all kinds of things Justified or not and insurance helps cover the risk big cities like Los Angeles they get enough taxpayer money that they can basically self-insure like set aside some money for a rainy day or a lawsuit but smaller cities like Irwindale they actually buy insurance through either a private insurer or something called a municipal risk pool a municipal risk pool is kind of like a family car insurance plan or Wendell is on the same insurance plan as a bunch of other police departments in California and if one of those Police Department's gets in a wreck everyone's premium can go up they call them contributions and the worst part about this plan is that ever
00:08:30who knows it's your fault or Wendell you're the bad teenage driver in this family so they need to get a handle on things or canceled their policy is that was that was it through the two options yes or you can you need to shop for another one and you'll be paying some premium-rate that's if you can even find another insurer willing to take you on if you can't you might lose your Police Department altogether because one incident could raise taxes or even bankrupt a small town one wrongful conviction one use of excess forest and Tony wanted to make sure his rank-and-file understood the stakes were that high so he brings them all together and says let me tell you guys a little story about Maywood California you know Maywood about 20 miles west of us there police department also had a lot of problems and our risk pool our family insurance plan got tired of footing the bill first Maywood
00:09:30warning they were told they needed to fix it they didn't
00:09:35and they lost their insurance they can no longer be police officer because of the motto of exposure they have Police Department shut down the city of Maywood couldn't bear the risk of having police without the insurance Authority and Tony tells his officers I was there at the end of the day they shut down I remember it just before midnight all of the Maywood Police Officers lineup in the parking lot dressed in their finest some Arnold already 28 25 years on and they're they're about to lose their career in their jobs and I know this
00:10:14and it's like being at a funeral everybody's crying in the audience and these grown men are standing there weeping one by one each officer steps forward picks up the police radio and what does chief does have them do one last radio transmission saying that they're going out of service
00:10:37these are recordings of those final Transmissions
00:10:48when Charlene and they had to do a final salute and then he takes their badge and takes their they put their portable radio in a box is the police chief he salutes and then he signs off for the last time
00:11:12Hayward Police pulled out a 10-7 End of Watch
00:11:19God bless all of you
00:11:25so I shared that story with them and I said I've seen bigger stronger men than you all in this room broken down in tears don't think for a minute that it will not happen I've seen it happen Tony says this is the moment after he told that story that he started to notice a shift at the Irwindale police department they could close early. Police department down this was real clear or when the LPD had to follow a performance Improvement plan we had eight things to fix and 18 months to fix them the Clock Was ticking
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00:13:14quick note I did reach out to Irwindale ensure and other people in town and many of them were willing to talk but said that a city official had told them not to speak with us however we verify the story with some folks who just didn't want to be recorded and with public documents okay back to the story for a long time a lot of police departments weren't allowed to buy insurance people thought it would create moral hazard basically if your risky behavior is covered by someone else you might do more of it but then in the 1960s there were a few Supreme Court rulings that gave police more rules anything you do say can and will be used against you in a court
00:13:54that's right Miranda rights shout-out Law & Order there and all of this made it much easier to sue the police so moral hazard be damned smaller Police Department's felt like they had to get insurance there's a whole big powerful well-financed industry that is trying to influence police Behavior this is John Rappaport he's a law professor at the University of Chicago and he wrote one of the first papers looking at the influence of insurance on police in the mix of a discussion that is often understandably heated and emotional ensures Look at police departments through the cold hard lens of an actuary does this police Behavior create risk if yes let's reduce it it's a business relationship they're able to say hey we're actually not
00:14:45protesters are activists we're not telling you your bad we're just telling you that your numbers are worse than they were last year and we want to bring them back down to where they were the goal of these and this is not just to win lawsuits it's to be so above board that nobody even brings a lawsuit so often ensures issue guidelines that are more strict than the law takes strips after the Supreme Court said police can strip search pretty much anyone for any arrest this one insurance was like yeah we're going to give our police some restrictions and I was like you should have someone of the same gender conduct the strip search and you should do it in a sanitary setting and those are things that
00:15:31actually aren't in the Supreme Court's opinion but at the same time I think the the insurer was you know using common sense to think how would this look to a jury and if you really want to make sure people are behaving the way they should sometimes you got to be proactive and insurance representative to hang out and just listen to gossip I mean if you do hear anything alarming they reported back to the insurance vying for that job I'll go you know if you really need me to go drink in whatever town I know John says look they don't just leave cops out there hoping they don't mess up they also try to help them out in the most insurance way possible doing things like updating police manuals or giving them training and if the department does get better there are rewards like lower premiums so back in Irwindale Tony has his to-do list the eight things that his family insurance plan has said he has to change and
00:16:3118 months and Tony added a few things himself to help fix the culture he calls all his people together and he steps up to the Whiteboard and says alright this is how we're going to fix this or we are going to treat this like a plane crash a plane just crashed in Irwindale you're all paramedics let's triage this that start with the most essential equipment remember those monitors the ones that tell cops where to go when they're responding to a 911 call or one day I'll fix them up and bought some more stuff to help reduce risk going on a 911 call is pretty important that your sweaty Palms doesn't turn the nine into a at 3 or 6 that patrol car is fixed the cameras in their cars got workplace harassment training and more training start a synonym to give me a baseball leasing courses officer safety was that Tony had to run almost everything he did buy the insurance Authority like if you wanted to discipline
00:17:31want to fire someone he needed their permission we met every I think it was every Wednesday at 10 a.m.
00:17:39without I mean you clear your calendar you're going to be there to run your things by a insurance company well it was not common practice ask for sure and to a certain degree act out second-guess but at the end of the day it just adds more credibility because it wasn't Justice outside Chief saying this is what we're going to do it's also our insurance company who could make us or break us and as long as it made sense they were cool with it was her point at which you thought this might work in my second year on the 4th of July Independence Day party and all the cops had to work so Tony brought a grill made everyone tacos and somewhere in the middle of it Tony took a picture
00:18:39picture on my cell phone and I looked at their faces and they were all smiling and that ad seen that anywhere is just one police department in one small town with a specific set of issues if you step back though and ask whether insurance is an effective way to improve Police Department's overall John Rappaport that law professor says sometimes the issues they care about most are the expensive ones things that might generate large payouts like excessive force but the less legally expensive the issue the less likely insurance is to address it because insurers aren't making moral judgments for them police reform is a business for Irwindale pressure from an insurance Authority seems to have helped 18 months after Tony showed up under that black cloud the insurance authority to Claire. Irwindale new and improved they could keep their coverage
00:19:39they could stay a police department and Tony says he doesn't think they could have done it without that performance Improvement plan that pip the officers would continue to be aggressive than Cortana fight apps into the pimp I'm not sure if or when Dale would be here today I'm really not sure I'm not sure his work was done and it off the department to a new Chi please take care of these guys are good guys and you're very lucky you're lucky I even when you got there late 1972 Gremlins like a pinto on 2 cylinders it was bad
00:20:32if you have a story idea of email s we're at Planet Money at NPR. Org Today Show was produced by Nick Fountain Brian or set edits our show and Alex goldmark is are supervising producer he edited Today Show special thanks to KPCC and KCRW also Richard Doyle who wrote a great story about this issue for the Atlantic Joanna Schwartz who's also done some great research on this and thanks to all the people who spoke with neon backgrounds on Karen Duffin and I'm Sarah Gonzales thanks for listening

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