Ryan Hagen, Staff Writer
Posted: 06/10/2012 08:13:40 PM PDT

SAN BERNARDINO – A $300,000 increase to the city attorney’s budget covering just the rest of this month was necessary because lawsuits against the city and particularly the Police Department continue to rise, according to City Attorney James F. Penman.

The budget increase, which the City Council approved last week, is on top of $939,000 the office received in March to offset a previous cut.

The city attorney can’t predict or control how many people sue the city, Penman said in defending a request that came when the fiscal year was nearly over.

Between Dec. 31, 2008, and Dec. 31, 2011, the number of lawsuits filed against the Police Department increased 104 percent, with most of those alleging excessive force, Penman said.

But police are acting appropriately, he said.

“Our officers are well trained, they’re well disciplined, and we win almost all of those cases,” Penman said. “The problem is we need to prepare fully for them because if the city loses it’s a big hit.”

Penman suspects several factors combined to create the increase.

“Part of the problem, I think a big part of the problem, is we have so many parolees in this city, and we have so many criminals who are armed,” Penman said. “They’re not afraid to pull weapons on the police, let alone run from them.”

That’s become particularly true since the state passed AB 109, he said. That law moved nonviolent offenders from the state prison system to county jails, and released some inmates.

“I’m not trying to say AB 109 is the only factor,” Penman said. “I’m not trying to say people having no jobs is the only factor; I’m not saying high school drop-outs are the only factor. In my mind, they all contribute.”

Police Chief Robert Handy said he’s updating policies and training to reduce allegations of excessive force.

A policy development group is helping the Police Department review its policies, some of which he said are unchanged since the 1980s.

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