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by Peter Moskos

July 21, 2014

How to change occupational culture

New York City just paid $2.75 million to settle a lawsuit from a prisoner who killed in Rikers. As a taxpayer, I worry about a million here and a million there. Pretty soon, as they say, we're talking about real money. To the tune of $100 million each year for New York City. And indeed it does not grow on trees.

Everybody who has ever been a jail -- guard, police officer, prisoner, lawyer -- knows some bad stuff happens in there. If you want to find brutality, stop looking at police and start looking at C.O.s. (Of course, it's a lot easier to film police than to film what goes on in jails and prisons.)

But those big settlements don't cost the agencies where it happened one penny. The Department of Corrections or NYPD budget doesn't pay for the lawsuits they brought about. The city pays. It's a lot easier to be irresponsible when somebody else picks up the tab. It's like you're playing baseball and break a neighbor's window. You'll probably break fewer windows if you have to pay for the replacement. But as long as mom and dad pick up the tab, play on.

If some or all of that money came from the agencies that were responsible, I guarantee you those agencies would find a way to change the behavior and working culture that leads to lawsuits. Instead, the culture stays the same, and every now and then an officer gets thrown under the bus.

[Update: Jim Dwyer has a July 22 story with a similar theme in the NYT.]

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