America’s first professional liability insurance policy for law enforcement is now available for purchase from a Texas company. Prymus Insurance is a small insurance company in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that specializes in niche insurance policies and it’s offering Hero’s Insurance for police officers.
The idea has been around for quite some time. Basically, officers would have to carry liability insurance to cover the costs of settlements and judgments if they got sued, something which is required in many other professions. First, this would mean taxpayers no longer get footed with the bill when officers are successfully sued, saving municipalities millions of dollars every year. Second, police misconduct would be disincentivized since bad behavior means higher risk for the insurance company and thus higher premiums. Repeat offenders would eventually see such high premiums that they’d effectively be priced out. On the flip side, things like de-escalation training could be rewarded with lower premiums, creating a carrot in addition to the stick.
“I always say this is a free-market solution to a constitutional problem,” said Prymus CEO Jeff Harrison in an interview with the Signal.
While the idea had been floated by activists for decades, the murder of George Floyd gave new impetus for police reform. According to Prymus, over 30 States have passed more than 140 new police oversight and reform laws since May 2020. One of the major proposed reforms is ending qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that makes it more difficult to bring civil suits against officers. Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Connecticut, and New York City have taken steps to either ban or limit qualified immunity, sparking new interest in police liability insurance.
However, Harrison stressed that even with qualified immunity officers were not completely shielded from lawsuits. “It is a speed bump to getting a lawsuit to an officer, there’s no doubt about that, but it doesn’t eliminate the process,” said Harrison. “Qualified immunity does not prevent someone from suing and even if an officer was granted qualified immunity, another judge can take it away.”
Harrison says that many officers are unaware that they may need insurance even with qualified immunity. “I keep on trying to explain to these guys, look, let’s just say they haven’t taken away qualified immunity in your state, or your county or city or whatever, you’re still liable,” said Harrison. “And it’s only by the grace of the taxpayers that they pay it. If the taxpayers stood up and said, ‘we’re just not gonna pay for cops that take away someone’s constitutional rights’ tomorrow it’d be done. Tomorrow they’d have to have insurance.”
Indeed, Harrison says that the first officers to sign up were from North Carolina, a state that hasn’t eliminated or curtailed qualified immunity.
Setting up an insurance policy requires a means of evaluating risk, so police liability insurance needs data to determine which officers are at higher risk of committing misconduct. When the Signal spoke with Harrison last year, he said getting this data was one of the main challenges. Unfortunately, it hasn’t gotten any easier since then. “It’s almost like we need to get to a critical mass of officers that we are insuring,” said Harrison. “Then we can go to the politicians and say, we need to know this information about the people that are our clients.” For now, Prymus requires officers to answer a series of questions, such as whether they’ve ever been fired, and if they answer dishonestly they’ll be committing insurance fraud.
Prymus is just getting started with police liability insurance but they have grand ambitions for it. “It’s sort of like we’ve taken our first step in a million step journey because the way I look at it there’s a million officers, we want a million officers,” said Harrison. “And the sooner we can get that done, the better for everyone.”
William serves as the Washington Correspondent for the Texas Signal, where he primarily writes about Congress and other federal issues that affect Texas. A graduate of Colorado College, William has worked on Democratic campaigns in Texas, Colorado, and North Carolina. He is an internet meme expert.