|Changes in Disability Law|
|Written by APB Staff|
Police brass say Pa. law is taking toll
When it comes to things like changes in policies effecting injured police officers, a little tweak can bring huge consequences.
In Philadelphia recently, the police department listed 64 officers as IOD, "injured on duty" and unavailable for work in January of 2005.
But today, that number stands at 245. The result is fewer officers patrolling the streets during a time when the level of violence, particularly homicide, is the city's chief concern. The anxiety over the rate of violent crime in the City of Brotherly Love is behind the push is on to bolster the department's ranks above its current staffing level of 6,500.
In addition to the impact on the number of officers available for duty, the city has seen a $1 million-a-year increase in medical costs.
There are differences of opinion in terms of what’s driving the numbers but observers say there is no question that the rise in IOD came after a change in the law that permits officers to collect 100 percent of their pay without paying federal taxes while on medical leave.
After a long legal and political battle between the city and the Fraternal Order of Police, officers in Philadelphia, like those throughout the rest of Pennsylvania, are now covered by the state's Enforcement Officer Disability Benefits Act, commonly known as the "heart and lung" law.
That change has completely altered the handling of most nonpermanent injuries incurred by officers in the performance of their duties.
Among other things, the act affects who treats the officers, how quickly they return to work, and how much they get paid while they're out. The changes have reduced the city's control over the process, giving a central role for the first time to outside medical professionals selected jointly by the city and the FOP.
In the fiscal year ended last June 30, the department recorded nearly 48,000 days' worth of lost work due to officers being IOD and thus unable to work, according to the city Finance Department.
But just two years earlier, the number was about 11,000. Those figures do not count officers who come back on limited hours of limited duty.
"The captains in the districts say it's killing them in how many cars and wagons they can put on the street," Capt. Michael Ryan, who heads the department's safety unit told the Philadelphia Enquirer.
"It's becoming a safety factor."
Officials of the FOP say that the police brass is overstating the impact and blame the city for any deficiencies in implementing the new system.