Now that Colorado officers can be sued as individuals, following the passage of police reform legislation last summer, a small Texas insurance company is offering liability insurance starting in October.
“I mean, the thing that you’ve got to understand is every industry out there has some kind of liability insurance. It doesn’t matter if you’re a notary, they have coverage,” Jeff Harrison, the president of Prymus Insurance, said. “It’s unusual for there to be an industry today that doesn’t have any professional liability coverage.”
Some liability insurance for officers does exist, but having it is rare.
“It is true that personal liability insurance for officers is a new thing,” Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle wrote in an email. “It started becoming popular with the passage of legislation like SB-217 in Colorado… That is when the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) and other police unions started hunting for liability coverage for cops.
Prymus Insurance started developing its new insurance product because of the new Colorado law which, among other provisions, removes the qualified immunity defense for civil rights violations by creating a pathway to sue at the state level.
Qualified immunity is a legal concept established by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1960s that protects officers and other public employees from personal liability unless they have knowingly violated a clearly established law.
Colorado officers can now be held liable for 5% of a settlement or $25,000, whichever is less.
One consequence of the Colorado legislation, some law enforcement leaders say, is that officers are leaving the profession, fearful that one wrong move on the job could cost them their savings.
“We’re kind of solving a problem on all sides,” Harrison said. “So on one side, you have the police officers.”
On the other side, Harrison sees the taxpayers. Oftentimes, when an officer is found to have violated a citizen’s civil rights, their municipality will indemnify them, meaning it will pay the amount of the settlement using taxpayer dollars or taxpayer-funded insurance.
Earlier this week, the city of Loveland announced a $3 million settlement with Karen Garner, a woman with dementia, after police violently arrested her last summer.
But despite the new legislation, the officers involved in Garner’s arrest will not pay any portion of the settlement because the original claims were filed in federal court.
But, going forward, for officers who choose to mitigate risk by purchasing liability insurance,
Jeff Harrison of Prymus Insurance says the monthly premium of around $25 — with no deductible — can fluctuate.
“So if they do take deescalation training or things like that, we can lower rates,” Harrison said.
On the other hand, misconduct, for example, could raise rates.
Over text, Rep. Leslie Herod (D), one of the prime sponsors of the Colorado legislation, expressed interest in liability insurance but does not have plans to introduce a bill to require it.