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Academic Research Could Help Us Better Understand Law Enforcement Liability


If you’re exploring how your pool’s claims data can be used to understand law enforcement liability and workers’ compensation, or if you’re working to identify effective ways your pool could help manage law enforcement risks, university researchers doing credible work in these areas may be a helpful resource.  

Law enforcement liability in the U.S. was the topic of two meetings I recently attended with pools, commercial insurers and brokers, and academics. This subject is a matter of increasing public interest and debate, so it should come as no surprise that there’s interest in broader and deeper research. 

These conversations were born from questions about whether there are causal influences of police behavior at the individual and agency level that, in turn, impact claims and liability. Although it is generally acknowledged that law enforcement liability loss frequency has remained stable, settlement and verdict costs (in the industry and in aggregate) have not. Researchers from multiple universities showed interest in evaluating causation and how insurers and risk pools might be able to change officer behavior and agency policies, training standards and culture.

I’ll admit to being initially skeptical about the value of a broad-based academic research project on this issue. Claims data presents a limited view of policing because a claim does not equate to liability. Furthermore, risk pools and insurers do not have data that would be useful as a baseline denominator — namely, any way to measure the totality of all policing interactions, activities, behaviors, etc.  

There are also significant differences among states and pools (or insurers) that could limit the value of research findings: 

  • Police training standards, legislative requirements, collective bargaining, tort caps, availability of legal defenses, jurisdiction, jury pools, etc.
  • Coverage language, deductibles, limits and underwriting requirements.
  • Risk management initiatives.
  • Claims data and data systems. (Some of you will remember the Public Risk Database Project, or PDRP. If you don’t, ask me about it sometime.) 
Despite these limitations, I’ve come to realize these factors should not be a barrier to supporting exploration and analysis. Just because I don’t readily see it doesn’t mean an important correlation or useful new finding doesn’t exist. In other words, familiarity with existing information and historical context shouldn’t impede efforts that could lead us to new and valuable insights.

    In fact, research into police liability might begin to identify which of these many variables is actually influential. It could also help police agencies, local public entities and risk pools make more informed decisions or more effectively serve the public. As an added (but important) bonus, the difficult public perception situation many law enforcement agencies are experiencing could improve with further analysis, understanding and more informed public discourse.

    If research along these lines is something your pool is working on or you’d like to explore further, please reach out to me directly so AGRiP can connect you to a few trusted resources and we can work on this together.


    Ann Gergen is AGRiP’s executive director and a former pool administrator. She has worked closely with and for pools, public entities, reinsurers and related service providers throughout her career.

    Published April 26, 2022.