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Learning lessons from lawsuits past

Fed up with the number of seemingly preventable police misconduct lawsuits crossing his desk, Baltimore City Solicitor George A. Nilson penned a program designed to use past experience to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Nilson’s idea is to analyze the lawsuits to identify behavior that could be used in training to prevent it from happening again. It is a two-pronged program that consists of counseling for the officers involved in the lawsuits and using the incidents in the litigation as part of the department’s training program.

Figures supplied to The Daily Record in May 2011 showed that the city had paid more than $16.8 million to settle lawsuits from July 2004 to March 2011. Hoping to reduce such losses, Nilson drafted the protocol that would become the teachable moment program, “Baltimore City Law Department Process for Relating Police Department and Similar Decisions with Police Training and Instruction.”

The counseling sessions are held after a settlement agreement is reached or after the conclusion of the trial that does not come back with a defendant’s verdict. That differs from the original plan, which was for certain of the settlements to not go forward until some form of corrective action had been taken.

Outside of the counseling, the other part of the program deals with training. Behavior that could be repeated and can be changed is first identified in the lawsuits. Information such as names and other identifiers are changed, but the actions that led to the lawsuit are integrated into the department’s training program.