Recent public debates over the costs of police reform, particularly Justice Department consent decrees with seriously troubled departments, have all focuses on the dollar costs. A recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out that the Settlement Agreement in Oakland, California (the result of a private law suit and not DOJ intervention) has cost $13.6 million over 13 years, not including the costs of new computer technology and body cameras, and new staff positions. (No other city has failed to comply with court-ordered reforms for such a long time, it should be noted.)

Former Oakland police chief Anthony Batts (2009-2011) stated that “It’s outrageous. That’s a lot of money  for a city like Oakland. It could have been spent on Head Start programs.”

Sam Walker replied in the Chronicle that “It’s offensive to this of this just in terms of the dollar cost, because there’s a human and social cost when people are shot and beaten up by the police.” How can you measure the human cost of a life lost because of an unjustified police shooting? How can you measure the cost to the person’s family in terms of pain and suffering? In cases of excessive force, how can you measure the cost of the physical pain and also the indignity inflicted on the person? Police misconduct also has a social cost. Patterns of police misconduct alienate local African American communities.

And to these human and social cost, we should add the enormous payouts in civil suits to the victims of police brutality and shootings in cities where abuse goes uncorrected. In Chicago, for example, taxpayers paid out $210 million between 2012 and 2015, or about $50 million a year. Consider how many Head Start programs, or after school programs that money would have bought

True, Walker has observed on other occasions, court-ordered reforms are expensive. But those costs are more than outweighed by the human and social costs of allowing police misconduct to continue.

Read the San Francisco Chronicle story here: oaklandScandal