Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Disabled officers: time to rethink police staffing

The Chicago Sun-Times has been in a journalistic frenzy this week with its series about how some former Chicago city employees abuse disability retirement.  The series is incurring backlash from police officers and firefighters and has been widely discussed by one of the midwest's notable blogs Second City Cop which is an anonymous "no holds barred" forum run by and for Chicago's men and women in blue.

It would be naive and foolish to say that fraud doesn't exist -- even here in Kenosha -- in disability programs but our comrades at SCC have aptly noted that there are disabled officers who would like to continue to contribute but can't because of the lack of a light duty program.  That's silly.

Obviously we don't want injured officers driving or riding in patrol cars in high speed chases or rolling around with dirtbags in the mud, blood and beer.  But in modern law enforcement there are a growing number of tasks that could be ably handled by experienced officers who are either temporarily or permanently restricted from street duty.

At one time "light duty" was a generic term encompassing mundane nonaggressive law enforcement tasks ranging from clerical "desk" work to playing "palace guard" at the police station.  The changing nature of modern law enforcement suggests that the inside support role that these venerable servants could perform is much broader and more meaningful.

For example, there has been a huge uptick in financial crimes from Internet scams to credit card fraud and employees with their hands in the cash drawer and/or cooking the books.  Often the research necessary to prove these cases is lengthy and complex as is preparing the paperwork necessary for a successful prosecution.  These duties are far more meaningful than simply answering the phone or giving night parking permission.

While we don't have our own crime laboratory disabled officers could help package and process evidence at the station and transport it to and from the crime laboratory in Milwaukee.  They could conduct background checks on applicants and keep tabs on liquor licenses or cross-match reported stolen property with pawn shop records.

Disabled officers could monitor the Internet for sex predators and people fencing stolen property, assemble cases submitted by other officers for court, help draft and secure search warrants and subpoenas for documents, prepare lineups and photo identification arrays and even conduct interrogations at the station house.

All of this, of course, is subject to the limitations of the individual officer's disability.  For some it would be impossible or impractical and that's to be understood,  But others could contribute full-time (for regular wages) or part-time (for perhaps a combination of wages and disability pay).  This would be a meaningful way of recognizing the men and women who put themselves on the line for the community they serve and, I suspect, a few may even made more valuable contributions in these support roles than when they were front-line troops. 

Allowing (and in some cases requiring) appropriate disabled officers to work in a supporting role not only gives their departments the benefit of their years of knowledge and experience but it helps disabled officers remain relevant contributors to their communities.  In the end, that's probably what it's all about.

Rachael Scdoris, the legally blind young Oregon woman who competed in Alaska's grueling Iditarod sled dog race, bristles at the use of the word "disabled" because it's become synonymous with "unable" and, as she is quick to point out, "I am by no means unable."  We need to find ways of using the able talents of these officers with dignity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a retired disabled police officer I wholly agree that officers should be given other duties and retained in employment. While Fraud can and does exist, you will find it only in very small numbers. The bar is high in regards to fitness standards for police and fire. It doesn't take much of an injury to make a police officer ineligible for duty. Because of liability the employer faces, the officer/firefighter has little choice to commit fraud or not. That high standard of fitness required for the job determines fitness for duty. The employer cannot retain someone unfit for duty, except, like you say, a light duty position. In my own case I asked for light duty, I asked for transfer to other city departments and was turned down. Then three separate doctors from both employer and state determine fitness as well make the process of fraud very difficult. So except for your assertion of fraud, I very much agree with you that police and fire could and should be retained.