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Baltimore Police Among Forces Paying Out More Money To Handle Misconduct Claims

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- The amount of money the nation's largest police departments are paying to handle misconduct claims is surging.

WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren digs into the reasons behind the increase.

One big reason is many people are using their phones to record interactions with police officers.

America's biggest cities are paying a staggering sum for police misconduct.

A Wall Street Journal report finds the nation's ten largest police forces, including Baltimore, paid out $248.7 million last year--a huge 48 percent increase since 2010. That adds up to more than $1 billion over the past five years.

While Baltimore ranks sixth on the list nationally, defense attorney A. Dwight Pettit says it would be much more without the law capping damages at $200,000 per plaintiff.

"The city takes the hard line and the arrogant approach, even in the most culpable cases where they're absolutely wrong," said Pettit.

In New York, the family of Eric Garner got almost $6 million. He died after police put him in a choke hold.

"Don't congratulate us. This is not a victory," said Gwenn Carr, Garner's mother.

In many cases, video of misconduct is fueling larger and quicker settlements.

"More of what's happening--that's been happening for years--is now coming to the public's attention," said Pettit.

One organization representing officers says you could have Mother Teresa running the department, and you'd still have lawsuits.

A recent WJZ-Baltimore Sun investigation drew attention to the victims, and that settlement agreements here often force them to keep quiet about brutality.

"I thought I was not going to make it that day," said one victim of police brutality.

What could make the difference is the ongoing Justice Department investigation--if the DOJ has the political will to force reform.

While Pettit is optimistic, he says making the city pay may be the only way to force change.

"They would very quickly find a way to cure this excessive force and police brutality in Baltimore and in Maryland--period," said Pettit.

The maximum amount you can get for a misconduct claim is set to double in Maryland, come October.

From 2012 through last year, of 3,048 police misconduct complaints in Baltimore, 1,203 were sustained.

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