A Bit More on Charging for Risk


Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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42 Responses

  1. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    get people driving like policemen

    or worse.Report

  2. Avatar Kim says:

    I’m pretty sure the policemen still get in mondo trouble if they break their car.
    That said, our expectation that policemen might break the traffic laws probably results in fewer collisions.Report

    • Avatar Damon says:


      Cops get away with killing people all the time. The common phrase is “stop resisting” as some is lying there handcuffed, getting curb stoned. Then, when it’s investigated, “I was in fear of my life” sayeth the cop. Case closed. DA won’t prosecute.Report

  3. Avatar zic says:

    What’s really shocking is when you investigate what it takes to be a cop.

    Often, nothing. Absolutely nothing; particularly for a relief officer, hired on a as-needed basis in a rural department to cover hours the regular staff is not available. Just deputize the sheriff with a badge, and she gets the whole deal — the cop car, the gun, the uniform, and all the rights and responsibilities entailed.

    To do this work full time does require training, or a plan for training at some point in the future. Before my town finally disbanded it’s PD and contracted services from the county sheriff’s, we were always paying for training of officers that got hired away as soon as their training was completed; and the replacements were always untrained (see above) for up to two years while we went through the budgeting process to pay for yet more training.

    That training can be as little as a few weeks at at police academy or an associates degree; it’s all over the board. Our PD went with the state’s police academy’s 18-week program.

    So when it comes to risk and cops, it’s always good to keep that in mind: a cop can be well trained, a little trained, or not trained at all, and you’ve got absolutely no way of knowing which kind you’re witnessing.Report

  4. Avatar Glyph says:

    Did you report the cop?

    I used to call and report cruisers that ran reds for no reason (by which I mean: sitting at red; turn on lights/siren and blast through intersection; then turn lights/siren back off, clearly indicating they don’t really have anywhere to be, just don’t want to wait any longer).

    I *suspect* if enough citizens did this frequently enough, it might change – I have to assume the PD doesn’t want the officers endangering themselves or the cars or, you know, other drivers, for insurance/liability reasons if nothing else.

    I may have also told this story, but one more time: in college, an acquaintance’s car was struck by a cruiser that was attempting to pass at high speed on a two-lane highway.

    Luckily, it was only minor damage to both cars (at that speed, the fallout could have been much worse).

    Unluckily, the cop 100% lied about the accident and cited the acquaintance for some variant of “backing up on a highway” (which was not at all how it had gone down, but the cop needed to place blame elsewhere than his own poor driving skills).Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      I suspect videos like this will make the private/personal dashcam market explode!

      For those who don’t want to watch, the video/story is that a Border Patrol van made an illegal left on red & got T-boned. The agents all lied about fault & the driver assumed they were correct, until he reviewed the footage.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      Doing what I do (evictions), I deal with a fair number of cops. There is a spectrum, just as in any other profession.

      Most of the cops I deal with present themselves to me in a professional fashion. They understand that they play an unique sort of role in the community, and they take that seriously. They genuinely want people to behave themselves, they have good judgment about the kinds of petty crimes or even misbehaviors which they ignore or deal with by way of a glare or an oral caution.

      Others, of course, not so much. This example — a cop sitting at a red light who just runs it without even putting on the sirens — is one of the things that drives the pros nucking futs. They understand full well that everyone else at this intersection sees it going on and the thought process that Tod describes is running through each and every one of their heads: that’s lawless behavior, which is the antithesis of being a law enforcement officer. The cop who runs the red light for no reason other than that he can encourages the civilians who see this to similarly behave lawlessly. (This is my paraphrase, but the concept is quite the same no matter how it gets phrased.)

      When one of the professional cops builds up enough trust with me to let their guard down, they say that they have ways within their ranks to deal with brother and sister officers who make the whole force look bad, but that this is limited. It comes down to their powers to persuade the other officers not to pull stunts like that.

      If the commanders get an idea of what’s going on, and care, then more can be done like informal discipline or reassignment. But “ratting out” fellow officers to the brass isn’t usually much appreciated by the brass as it’s thought to be detrimental to morale. So to some extent they kind of have to put up with their brother and sister officers misbehaving when they persist despite the guidance dispensed by their peers.

      Maybe that’s just the culture of the two primary law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County, particularly LASD with whom I have the most interaction. But it seems entirely reasonable to extrapolate similar attitudes to most larger police forces.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        There is a spectrum, just as in any other profession.

        It’s a shame when the “bad apple” cops ruin it for the other 5%.

        (I know, it’s probably not fair, but I love that joke, and will use it at any opportunity).Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        When one of the professional cops builds up enough trust with me to let their guard down, they say that they have ways within their ranks to deal with brother and sister officers who make the whole force look bad, but that this is limited.

        This is interesting to hear. Sadly, I’m guessing that those sanctions don’t include options like, “not supporting that officer when he comes under investigation or has charges brought against him for those behaviors.”Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        @troublesome-frog I haven’t grown close enough to any cops to get insight into that. Initiating internal investigations is thought of as bad for morale, but the cops I know admit that sometimes it’s necessary. Where the line gets drawn between “little things” that the rank and file uses peer pressure to deter, and “big things” that an IAD or its equivalent get called in on, goes beyond what I’ve been given insight to.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        @jonathan-mcleod – I can’t take credit. I’m pretty sure I got the basic premise from a commenter on a Balko thread once. But it’s stuck with me.Report

  5. Avatar zic says:

    I do have to say, I wish we’d do a good risk analysis of tactical strobes so commonly used now.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      I love the idea of tactical strobes! And you can make them at home with bright LEDs and a little electronics know how. Since my wife is not a fan of guns, I’ve often toyed with the idea of making/getting her one to use (just in case) when I’m on travel.

      Of course, one has to wonder how long it will be before someone figures out how to tweak a pair of goggles to filter out the effects.Report

      • Avatar zic says:


        They trigger migraine for me; seizures in folk so susceptible. I’ve had some serious conversations with a couple of profs at Columbia about making goggles that would even out strobing light; ironically they both seek out the brain overwhelm it induces and greatly enjoyed watching this episode of Pokemon, which triggered seizures in hundreds of kids when it aired.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        I can absolutely see the seizure risk. I wonder if it is comparable to the heart failure/etc. risk of a taser? You are right, some risk analysis would be very useful.Report

  6. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    One reason why they don’t have to worry about getting ticketed:

    Also, this is the fundamental problem with the welfare state: If you precommit to bailing people out, more people get themselves into situations where they need to be bailed out.Report

    • Avatar Dan Miller says:

      I’m not wild about this analogy, because in a decent society, there’s an expectation that, for instance, everybody should have a roof over their head and enough to eat and that government should provide this if necessary (I’m intentionally avoiding using the word “right” here, to avoid a giant discussion). On the other hand, there’s no expectation that people (cops or not) should be able to drive unsafely with impunity, or skip lights when others don’t get to.Report

  7. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    I can’t believe there hasn’t been more work done on making internal affairs departments more effective. Maybe a separate force entirely, with its own chain of command?Report

  8. Avatar Road Scholar says:

    Tod, this was both a great example and a terrible one. Great in that it nicely illustrated your point. Terrible in that the entire discussion is about cops and I fear your larger point is getting lost in that noise.

    So let’s look at what originally inspired this post, liability insurance for gun owners. This kind of thing strikes me as being an example of simple and elegant regulation. As MRS reported, the typical price wouldn’t actually be prohibitive–about $100/year. Yet it’s enough to encourage safer behavior with insurers helping you to reduce your risk profile and offering lower premiums in return.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      @road-scholar “Terrible in that the entire discussion is about cops and I fear your larger point is getting lost in that noise.”

      Yeah, welcome to the intertubes.

      I figure my job here is to set the table, but it’s up to everyone else to decide what they’re going to be eating.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      I’ve always thought that, next to getting rid of them altogether, the next best way to deal with guns is to make it so expensive to use them, in time, stress, and money, that people will only use them when they absolutely have to.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:


        Except you run into that whole “that which can be done to one right, can be done to all”.

        I mean, what better way to deal with all the trolls on the internet that to make it expensive to post a comment. Perhaps a fee per comment? Or better yet, a fine for every down vote!

        Of course, in places like NY, NJ, or MA, being a gun owner is already an expensive hassle if you want to obey the law, and harmless technical violations can net you a felony conviction. That seems totally fair, right?Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Yeah, this is kinda one of those “sounds good at first blush” things, until you realize that “making things expensive in time, stress and money” is great at keeping both Lamborghinis, and guns, out of the hands of poor people.

        And what possible legitimate use could a poor person ever have for a gun?Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        And to be clear, I have no issues with insurance companies reasonably assessing and pricing risk w/r/t guns, in a manner similar to what they presumably do with other power tools, like, say, table saws and chainsaws.

        They DO do that with power tools, right? Those things are dangerous.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Ah, good point. Then take the money out, and just make it really, really unpleasant.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        I liked Chris Rock’s solution: Do what you want with the guns, but make bullets cost $10,000 a piece. The people who get shot really deserve it and it should all but eliminate the “innocent bystander” problem.Report

      • Avatar Major Zed says:

        Would you have this pricing apply to the police (and increasingly well-armed non-LE branches of the government) too? I could get behind that.Report

      • Avatar Major Zed says:

        Trouble is, that’s Social Planner thinking. On the LE side, exemptions would follow quickly as night follows day. On the other side, a hella black market in bullets. If only we were God, the world would work right!Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        There are cases where that works. Make it cost .01 ¢ to send an e-mail. No one would feel it but the spammers, whom it would put out of business.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        I’ve always liked the Hashcash anti-spam solution–a practical use for a proof-of-work currency that predates Bitcoin by more than a decade. No central billing authority or worry about “corruption” or “gouging” for postal costs. Just an ephemeral token that has no value beyond proving that your email is important enough to invest some CPU cycles in.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Pricing ammo like that makes it impossible for citizens to practice, which makes the right moot, which is a no-no. It’s like having the freedom to travel, but only if you pay a road tax of $100/mile.

        The only people affected by such schemes are those willing to obey the law. Those who want a gun & ammo will either get it off the black market, or steal it from the police, or a gun store, or the military (the Pentagon is about to destroy over $1B in ammunition because it has crap inventory systems; I bet you even money & good chunk of that finds it’s way onto the market).

        Either way, problem is at best only slightly mitigated, at the cost of unfairly affecting people who are careful, responsible, and have done nothing wrong.

        But that’s OK, it’s only THOSE people, who cares if they’re affected.Report

  9. Avatar Michael M. says:

    In every city I drive, people who have this particular job violate traffic laws all the time, for no other reason than they don’t wish to adhere to them.

    I realize you are talking here about a specific set of people (the police), but more generally I’m not sure it is fair to characterize the motivation as exclusively “for no other reason than they don’t wish to adhere to” traffic laws.

    Many years ago I had a summer internship with the NYC DOT and a significant portion of that job involved collecting data on travel times. That meant days and days of driving up and down Manhattan avenues. When you put two college age kids in a car for 8 hours a day and make them drive up and down the same streets, shenanigans will ensure, like — “hey, lets see if we can beat our last time!”, “hey, lets break our speed record!” But that didn’t happen right away — even though I’d lived in NYC for the better part of three years, I had done very little driving there, so at first I was pretty careful and obeyed all the rules of the road. It was exciting enough at first to be able to park anywhere except “No Parking Anytime” zones. Eventually, though, the boredom combined with the familiarity of the streets and traffic rhythms made all us interns start to treat Lexington Avenue like a speedway, to the extent that we could get away with it.

    The point being, the more skilled I became at navigating the routes, the more confident I got at holding my own against the city’s taxi drivers, the more risk I felt comfortable taking. Police officers, taxi drivers, delivery drivers, anyone who knows a city (or at least major parts of it) well and drives it all the time are probably going to be less faithful to the letters of traffic laws than a more casual driver because of confidence and familiarity. I wouldn’t characterize that as “no other reason than they don’t wish to adhere to” traffic laws, even though that is probably a factor.Report

  10. Avatar zic says:

    @tod-kelly most municipal insurance includes law-enforcement liability insurance, no?Report

    • Avatar zic says:


      Public sector insurance services — Law enforcement liability insurance

      Coverage for bodily injury, personal injury or property damage that results from law enforcement activities or operations and is caused by a wrongful act while conducting those activities or operations.

      Law enforcement activities or operations mean any of the official activities or operations of your police department, sheriff agency or other public safety organization that enforces the law and protects persons or property.

      Key coverage features:
      “Pay on behalf of” basis
      Coverage for all authorized activities or operations (includes moonlighting if approved by law enforcement agency)

      Coverage for violation of civil rights under any federal, state or local law

      $25,000 additional payment per policy period for personal property of others in your care, custody and control at time of arrest

      First-aid/emergency medical services liability

      Professional and premises coverage for jail operations

      Automatic coverage for owned and non-owned watercraft

      Coverage for liability assumed under mutual law enforcement assistance agreements

      Defense for claims or suits alleging criminal, malicious, dishonest, or fraudulent conduct until determination of such conduct in a legal proceeding

      Coverage for the entity and its employees’ participation on joint task forces

      Defense expenses are paid outside/in addition to the limits of coverage

      No intentional acts exclusion

      Coverage for pure mental anguish
      Risk control services:

      One-day law enforcement liability seminars designed for field personnel and the management staff

      Model Law Enforcement and Jail Policies and Procedures — review sample policies and procedures for law enforcement agencies and jail operations

      On-site consultations on jail operations and facilities