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Good Judgement: Defending Police Against Civil Suits

NCJ Number
Police Quarterly Volume: 1 Issue: 1 Dated: 1998 Pages: 91-117
James J. Fyfe
Date Published
27 pages
This article discusses defending police against civil suits.
Police practitioners generally are well-acquainted with criminal court processes, but are less familiar with what happens when their officers and agencies are called to civil courts to answer for their actions or why they happened. This paper analyzes the facts and evidence in a case involving alleged misconduct by off-duty Philadelphia police officers in connection with a highway dispute and discusses the implications for police administrators. The case illustrates the types of practices that may expose an agency to liability, for example, failing to provide officers with clear policy and training for their off-duty hours. Police officers must understand that their badges, guns, and enforcement powers are to be used judiciously both on-duty and off-duty. It also illustrates the inadequacy of after-the-fact corrective action as a defense to liability, and emphasizes the importance of police administrators recording and analyzing data related to high risk liability incidents and acting upon whatever patterns of misconduct or other symptoms of poor supervision are evident. Tables, notes, references, appendix