As anti-police rhetoric has grown in some communities, more and more cops are purchasing liability insurance to protect themselves against lawsuits related to their job performance, Reuters reports.
The Fraternal Order of Police which includes more than 330,000 officers nationwide is reporting a big increase in the number of members who have enrolled in its legal defense insurance plan.
“In an already litigious society, the likelihood of a police officer being sued or charged, often falsely, grows by the day,” FOP Executive Director Jim Pasco told Reuters. “Officers are increasingly aware of the need to be protected and joining the FOP legal defense plan in growing numbers.”
The FOP, the nation’s biggest police union, says insurance purchases jumped 15 percent from July 2014 to July 2015, according to Reuters. In previous years the purchases grew only one to three percent.
The sharp jump comes with police departments under attack in some communities after deadly police encounters sparked controversy in several well-publicized cases.
The Obama administration and civil rights groups such as Black Lives Matter have called for more police accountability, including the use of body cameras and community oversight.
Some, including FBI Director James Comey, have said that the increased scrutiny has officers afraid to do their job and has led to an increase in crime.
Another rank-and-file police group, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, saw enrollment in its liability insurance plan climb 10 percent last year, Reuters reported.
"The environment has become increasingly volatile towards law enforcement in general," Jonathan Adler, a past president of the group, told Reuters.
Officers sued in wrongful death lawsuits between July 2014 and July 2015 include Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson, Missouri, officer who shot and killed Michael Brown.
The decision not to indict Wilson in connection with the August 2014 shooting led to riots in Ferguson and protests in other cities.
The FOP’s legal defense plan would help cover legal fees in civil and criminal cases, Pasco told Reuters. The coverage is available to FOP members at a cost of $265 a year.
The plan’s brochure also explains that coverage is provided even if the employer defends the officer in a lawsuit.
“The plan will provide an additional lawyer to monitor the claim if you are exposed to the likelihood of personal liability for money damages,” the brochure says. “If your employer refuses to defend you, the plan will pay a lawyer of your choice to defend you as provided in the plan description.”