EXPLAINER: What happens when police cause property damage

EXPLAINER: What happens when police cause property damage
Published: May. 10, 2023 at 10:46 PM CDT
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - As resources expand, law enforcement officers have more tools to infiltrate buildings with barricaded suspects, but when the dust settles, innocent people can sometimes be left with a damaged home.

14 News took time with Vanderburgh County Sheriff Noah Robinson to discuss liability in those situations.

Robinson said when law enforcement arrives to a hostile situation and they can’t get to a suspect, their first goal is to bring the situation to a peaceful conclusion.

That means they start talking to the suspect and one of their half dozen or so trained negotiators try to get the suspect to leave peacefully.

He said waiting things out isn’t always an option.

“Eventually, people are going to want their neighborhood back,” he explained. “We’ve got to bring it to a conclusion.”

Robinson said when law enforcement has concluded the suspect won’t negotiate in good faith, they escalate their approach.

Typically, the first step is to fire rounds of tear gas into the building to flush the suspect out.

From there, authorities will try to safely enter the home, and in some cases that means ripping it open with an armored vehicle.

When things are clear, what’s left behind is damage and a mess that law enforcement won’t be liable for.

“Taxpayers shouldn’t be footing the bill for someone else’s criminal activity,” Robinson said. “We take every step possible to minimize the property damage... Just as sure as a tree falls on your house or an arsonist sets your home on fire, you can’t be mad at the fire department for spraying water on your house.”

As long as police are acting reasonably, all responsibility for damage falls squarely at the feet of the person they were attempting to arrest.

On the off chance that your home is collateral damage in someone else’s arrest, that someone else is who you’ll need to seek compensation from.

“Typically, you would see the insurance company sue the criminal who caused the event or that individual’s estate if they are deceased,” Robinson said.

In many cases, that person may not have the means to pay it back. He said from there, your last option is homeowner’s insurance.