ST. PAUL, Minn. - Taxpayers should be off the hook for any damages stemming from claims of police misconduct related to the Republican National Convention under a first-of-its-kind agreement.
The deal required the Republican Party's host committee to buy insurance covering up to $10 million in damages and unlimited legal costs for law enforcement officials accused of brutality, violating civil rights and other misconduct.
Other cities who hosted conventions in recent years — including Denver, Boston, New York and Philadelphia — either covered those costs from their general budgets or used tax money to buy insurance policies.
But St. Paul officials, led by Mayor Chris Coleman, insisted the committee use its private donations to purchase the insurance policy. They had some leverage because the party had named St. Paul as the location for the convention before striking the city services agreement in January 2007.
"The negotiating team, with the mayor's encouragement, took the firm ground that we had to have the police professional liability insurance paid for by someone other than city taxpayers," said City Attorney John Choi. "Ultimately, and reluctantly on the host committee's part, we were able to secure that."
The deal could save taxpayers millions. Police have arrested nearly 300 people, and many protesters are threatening lawsuits. New York City still faces more than 400 lawsuits from some of the 1,800 people arrested at the 2004 GOP convention, said Laura Postiglione, a spokeswoman in the city's law department.
In St. Paul, some critics say the agreement has only encouraged police to use aggressive tactics knowing they won't have to pay damages.
"It's an extraordinary agreement. Now the police have nothing to hold them back from egregious behavior," said Michelle Gross, who leads Communities United Against Police Brutality. She is considering filing suit after being handcuffed and searched last week during a raid of the St. Paul hub of an anarchist group.
Choi said such claims were unfair, noting most officers are probably unaware of the deal. He called it a landmark agreement that would likely become the standard for future political conventions.
The policy, with Boston-based Lexington Insurance Co., cost the committee $1.1 million or about half as much as originally anticipated. It will cover claims against more than 100 city, county and state law enforcement agencies who are helping police the area for the convention.
The city will not have to pay a deductible or any of the costs of hiring outside law firms to investigate and defend claims, which will not be counted toward the $10 million damage limit.
Teresa McFarland, a spokeswoman for the host committee, agreed the arrangement was the first of its kind for a convention city. The committee purchased the policy in April, earlier than required, to help the city recruit law enforcement partners for the convention, she said.
"It's a very unfortunate part of a convention but you need to make sure that everyone is protected in case something happens," she said. "As a host committee, we try to relieve the burden that would otherwise fall on the cities to host the convention. We certainly have done that and this is one component."
Ron Guilfoile, the city's top risk manager, said he expected claims for police misconduct, damage to property and civil rights violations to begin flowing in from the convention. Already, he said one lawsuit seeking over $50,000 claims the police raids of buildings housing convention protesters were illegal.
Though it's possible claims could outstrip the $10 million policy, Guilfoile said he was confident they would not.
"We made the determination early on the exposure was too great to put the taxpayers in the city of St. Paul at financial risk," he said. "And they won't be — not one dime."