Baltimore’s police union is warning that a new change in policy may make officers responsible for payouts from lawsuits, a change that is likely to affect the entire department.

Forward Observer reported that in an email message sent to its members, police union president Gene Ryan says the city has “generally supported” officers in the past by paying out punitive damages as well as compensatory damages that were awarded litigants in civil jury trials.

However, Andre Davis, the new city solicitor and former federal judge, has altered that policy.

The email reads as follows:

Many of our officers are sued for monetary damages by individuals they have arrested or have come in contact with. These lawsuits allege wrongdoing on the part of the officer and oftentimes allege that the officer acted with malice.  Malice means that the officer’s alleged actions were motivated by a personal hatred towards the individual suing him or her.  If the person suing the officer wins on the question of whether the officer committed a wrong, the Plaintiff can recover monetary damages to compensate him or her for any injury and/or expenses incurred resulting from the officer’s actions.  If a jury finds that the officer acted with malice, the jury has the option to award punitive damages which are designed to punish the officer and to serve as a deterrent to the officer not to repeat the alleged wrongful conduct found to have occurred by the jury.

Most times, the officer who is being sued will dispute the allegations made by a Plaintiff and successfully defend a claim for punitive damages. However, many juries award punitive damages despite the lack of evidence of malice even in cases where the police officer has not been charged criminally and been found to have acted within the scope of his/her duties consistent with the rules and regulations of the Baltimore Police Department. In the past, the City of Baltimore has generally supported the officers by paying punitive damages as well as the compensatory damages awarded for the actual injury.  Since Andre Davis has been named as our new City Solicitor, he has adopted a policy of not paying any punitive damages despite the fact that the Police Officer has been found to have acted appropriately by the office of the State’s Attorney as well as the Baltimore Police Department.

What this means is that police officers are now required to pay these punitive damage awards, which can amount to thousands of dollars, out of their own pockets. Since punitive damages cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, the successful citizen can file an attachment against your wages taking 25% of your net bi-weekly paycheck [sic] until the amount of the punitive judgement [sic] is satisfied.

Please keep this in mind as you go about performing your duties.

This may actually be an opportunity to hold police officers accountable for their actions, particularly pertaining to the taking of lives of so many unarmed people of color. The fact that their actions (read wages) can be directly impacted by their behavior in these communities should bring on the change we've so desperately been asking for. Only time will tell.