May 16, 2019 | View as webpage
This briefing brought to you by

Leaders,

Tens of thousands of law enforcement professionals were in Washington, DC, this week for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund's 31st Annual Candlelight Vigil and other Police Week activities that honor those officers who made the ultimate sacrifice. Police Week is also a time to acknowledge the sacrifices of officers severely injured or disabled in the line of duty, who either face a long road of recovery before they can return to work, or whose careers have been cut short.

In today's Leadership Briefing, Chief Joel Shults details what police leaders should know about their agency's policy and response to disabling injuries, and Barbara Schwartz lists some simple steps every cop can take to honor and remember officers injured in the line of duty.

What support does your agency have in place for officers injured on duty? Email me at nancy.perry@policeone.com.

Nancy Perry
Editor-in-Chief, PoliceOne

P.S. Are you interested in an event that offers education, hands-on training, community building and product displays specifically for law enforcement, all in one place? Share your thoughts in this 5-minute survey and get a chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card.


In this issue:

By Chief Joel Shults

If your officer gets injured, they're covered, right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

With recruitment and retention all the buzz in law enforcement, many agencies are looking at improving pay, incentives and working conditions. One item often overlooked, and unknown even by many police leaders is what support an officer who sustains a disabling line-of duty-injury can expect. The answer may not be very much.

To advocate for local, state and national policies that make law enforcement a more stable career, leaders must know their own agency's policy and response to disabling injuries. Only a few large police departments are positioned to provide long-term disability income and benefits for injured officers. Here are some concerns officers should know, leaders must communicate and executives resolve by advocacy.

Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program

The Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) program is designed to provide a cash benefit to survivors of officers who suffer prescribed line-of-duty deaths. PSOB also, theoretically, includes a disability benefit for officers permanently disabled in the line of duty.

Although Congress is considering fixes to the PSOB program, there are many issues that have kept disabled officers waiting for years for benefits. The program is backlogged, there is no manual to guide the bureaucrats who decide on benefits and the applicant must depend on their employing agency to provide information for their application. Differences on what constitutes total disability can deny benefits to an officer who could get a job washing dishes for a few hours a day and, therefore, be deemed not "totally disabled."

Dependents are also eligible for federal education benefits, but only after PSOB benefits are approved. Children can age out and families go bankrupt from medical costs and loss of income while waiting.

Action item: Police advocates should urge their federal representatives to support PSOB reform.

Disability insurance

There's a good chance your officers don't have any disability coverage. They and their families need to be aware of the risk of catastrophic financial loss.

Since many agencies opt out of Social Security, it follows that Social Security Disability is also unavailable to employees. A good faith assumption that disability claims to Social Security will be honored is quite wrong. Some agencies have optional disability insurance as an employee benefit, but officers often chose to decline the insurance to save the out-of-pocket premiums. This is short-sighted for the employee, but departments should be diligent about educating workers on their risks and choices.

Employees who think they can go on the market for private disability insurance will find that no insurer wants to cover police officers.

Action item: Police advocates can urge organizations to develop a group policy for officers and urge their federal legislators to require employers opting out of Social Security to inform their employees about their options.

Workers' compensation

Most workers' compensation (WC) has been privatized with a resulting profit and bonus motive. There are too many WC horror stories to relate here, but one can safely say that WC is structured to do everything it can to deny and minimize benefits. The process should not require the involvement of lawyers to force appropriate care, but injured officers are finding it necessary.

If an officer is on injury leave and runs out of leave time, they can find themselves unemployed and without health insurance. Many officers who have supplemented their income with law enforcement-related off-duty employment suffer the loss of that revenue source as well.

Action item: Police advocates should monitor their WC systems and address injustices and denials of care.

Taxation

Some states provide exemptions for disabled officers from property taxes, hunting and fishing license fees, or other considerations that reduce the burden of living on a reduced income.

Federal legislation is being considered at the time of this writing that would exempt disability income from taxes after retirement age. Current law exempts disability income from federal taxes until retirement age, after which that income is federally taxed. This creates an additional burden to disabled officers at the worst possible point in their lives.

Action item: Police advocates should contact their federal legislators to urge passage of lifetime federal tax relief from disability income and support local and state tax relief as well.

If we want to be honest in our recruitment and retention efforts, we must educate our recruits, officers, leaders and legislators about the challenges of continuing care for those willing to sacrifice all.

Additional resources on officer injuries:


In resource-strapped times, intelligence-led policing is a key to identifying and investigating gang activity. This special coverage series reviews strategies departments can deploy to take a data-driven approach to reducing gang-related crime.

By Barbara A. Schwartz

How would you feel if you were catastrophically injured on duty and left disabled? Would you want your sacrifice to be acknowledged? Your bravery recognized? Your years of service honored? Unfortunately, that isn't the case for many officers injured on the job. Instead, they often feel forgotten and unacknowledged.

During this year's National Police Week, let's begin to change that by remembering and honoring injured and disabled officers who live with their sacrifices every day.

Medical advances save lives, but cannot prevent injury

Advances in medical care, the advent of tactical medicine and police carrying equipment for self-aid have kept officers from becoming a name on the wall. Living doesn't diminish their sacrifice or their valor.

An officer who was shot and catastrophically injured told me in a conversation that if a tactical doctor hadn't accompanied his unit on a warrant service and an ambulance been on standby, he would be dead. "If I had died," he said," I would be honored for my service and valor. Because I lived, ended up disabled, I am forgotten. No one acknowledges my years of service or what happened that day or what my family and I have lost."

Injured officers have lost their lives. They lose the job they loved and their identity as police officers. They lose the social support system that came with going to work every day. Their injuries force them to give up hobbies and recreational activities. They sacrificed the life they knew — and lived — by performing their sworn duties. In return, they are often forgotten because they are a reminder of the risks all officers face. Officers don't want to see how an on-duty injury can shatter lives and careers. Colleagues stay away and distance themselves from the injured officers.

We need a shift in culture

Law enforcement culture historically views injured officers as weak, harshly judges their actions and often blames officers for their injuries. Injured officers who return to work are considered tainted or damaged and treated like they can no longer perform the job.

"My colleagues don't see me as they used to," an injured officer who returned to work told me." I have to prove myself again. Like I had to do as a rookie. My years of experience are meaningless."

Families of injured/disabled officers experience grief and loss. The dreams they held for the future have been denied and dramatically changed. Families must wage an ongoing battle for workers' compensation benefits. The injured/disabled spouse/parent may not be able to participate in family functions, provide the same level of caregiving that they did before the injury, or assist in household duties and chores. Disabled officers may need round-the-clock care that taxes their loved ones.

Injuries aren't always physical. Trauma and stress-related injuries are invisible. Despite officer wellness initiatives, the law enforcement culture continues to scorn and disparage officers asking for help when invisibly wounded by exposure to critical incidents, stress and trauma. Those who do reach out for assistance, and acknowledge their invisible wounds, are considered weak and damaged.

How to shift the culture

How can we reverse this attitude and culture toward injured and disabled officers? Here are some steps both police leaders and officers can take:

  • Culture change starts with one officer. Be that officer.
  • Reach out when another officer shows sign of an internal or invisible injury. Offer to listen, acknowledge their pain and help them help themselves.
  • Include injured/disabled officers in Police Week activities. Honor their service, valor and sacrifice as wounded veterans of the war against crime.
  • Follow the lead of the Chicago Memorial Foundation and erect a permanent display bearing the names of catastrophically injured/disabled officers.
  • Visit an injured officer, not just during Police Week, but regularly, to thank them for the sacrifice they made.
  • Acknowledge the pain these officers have suffered due to their injury or disability and what they live with daily.
  • Invite an injured/disabled officer on a ride-along and include them in department activities and celebrations.
  • When an officer who was injured returns to work, treat them as you did before. Don't doubt their skill or ability to do the job. Support the battle they went through to get back to work.
  • Reach out to the families of injured officers. Few support groups exist for the spouses and children of injured officers. Bring them a meal. Offer to mow the lawn or wash a car. Toss a ball with a child or take them to the park or the zoo.
  • Lobby for legislation in your home state supporting workers' compensation benefits for catastrophically injured officers. Lobby for laws that recognize traumatic invisible injuries as a disability and worthy of workers' compensation.

Injured officers performed bravely and heroically, and those actions need to be honored and remembered. Honor their sacrifice during Police Week and throughout the year.

About the author

Barbara A. Schwartz is certified as a first responder peer supporter by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) and the Law Enforcement Alliance for Peer Support (LEAPS). She is a former reserve officer serving in patrol and investigations.

Additional considerations for assisting injured officers:


3. Tracking officer injuries: One practice that can contribute to improving your agency's culture of safety is tracking injuries sustained by officers while on duty. Download a simple tool from the IACP to assist in the process.

2. Ensure officers survive survival training: Force-on-force survival training is valuable when realistic but can be fraught with danger. Here are 13 steps your police trainers can follow to ensure force-on-force training is as safe as possible.

1. The Wounded Blue: A new documentary explores several critical issues facing law enforcement professionals today including PTSD, suicide and the financial ruin officers can incur after suffering a career-ending injury in the line of duty.


Manage Policies and Track Offline Training in PoliceOne Academy
With nearly 200 online courses to meet annual mandates, PoliceOne Academy provides departments a modern system for tracking offline training, managing policies and maintaining compliance.
Join PoliceOne LinkedIn Group
Learn Police Leadership Solutions
Access Police Leadership Training
Find, apply for Police Grants
PoliceOne does not send unsolicited messages. You are receiving this email because you have signed up for PoliceOne and subscribed to this newsletter. Click here to unsubscribe. Visit our Customer Support page to report any email problems or subscribe to our other newsletters.