PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- The city of Portland has paid more than $3 million in the past five years to settle legal claims against police, including more than $850,000 for just one officer.
City attorneys say the payouts don't necessarily suggest police acted inappropriately, and they may be less costly than going to court.
The payout for officer Leo Besner included the city's largest settlement from a shooting -- $500,000 to the family of a man Besner shot while the man was on the phone with police negotiators.
Besner says police work is inherently risky and certain assignments put some officers in a position to face more claims.
But attorneys who regularly sue the city say the Portland Police Bureau is slow to act against officers repeatedly named in lawsuits who cost the city thousands of dollars.
City risk managers and police supervisors say they pay attention to litigation.
In recent years, they've changed policy and training when claims or lawsuits have pointed out problems.
"We're trying to identify any issues, areas of concern or corrective action that should take place," said Mike Palmer, the bureau's safety and risk officer. "We're watching these claims from Day One. We don't want to wait until after a large settlement."
Sgt. Scott Westerman, president of the Portland Police Association, says the city payouts infuriate officers.
"I think it's a travesty. The attorneys often say it's cheaper to pay out than it costs to try it to prove they're right. This is the part that disgusts most officers," Westerman said.
It's difficult to compare Portland with cities of similar size because Oregon caps public liability.
Samuel Walker, emeritus professor of criminal justice at the University of Nebraska at Omaha who has written about police oversight, says it's difficult to learn from the numbers alone.
"The payout comes years after the incident, so the figures for 2008 don't reflect what's happening now," Walker said.
But examining legal claims is an important way for agencies to discover patterns in policing or problems with certain officers, Walker said. "It's a matter of learning from it, asking what went wrong," he said.
In 2005, the city council directed the Independent Police Review Division to review tort claims and civil suits and initiate police internal investigations when warranted.
Last year, the division opened complaints on 13 of 163 civil claims. All but four were dismissed.