Saturday, December 12, 2015

Not Death, but Life

 "My brother wants to know when he can get back to work. That's him -go, go, go." Meghan Lopez, sister of wounded Denver Police officer Tony Lopez.

Donald Trump would like to have a mandatory death penalty for individuals who murder police officers. I am, of course, opposed to murdering police officers. Leaving aside the death penalty debate (about which I am an unabashed hypocrite), if society would like to do something nice for law enforcement officers, they should examine what happens when one of us is injured in the line of duty.

Hollywood has left us with grave misconceptions about individuals who have survived gunshot wounds, especially those involving extremities. The wounded officer ties a bandana around the affected area and resumes his or her normal life, with nothing but a temporary limp to show for the experience. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The wounded officer has endured the trauma of an attempt on their life. They may wonder if they will die, right there in the street. They have, more than likely, had to face the possibility that they will never see loved ones again. But, somehow they made it.

Federal law has, in many ways, tied the hands of a department’s Human Resources office in the manner in which wounded officers are treated. For example, after a relatively short period they are placed on disability, initially the short term variety, which reduces their pay significantly. Although benefits at this point are tax-free there is still a deficit to make up.

Officers are sometimes prevented from re-engaging peers in the workplace when on a disability status, as opposed to “light duty.” It’s one thing to visit “the station,” but quite another to do something – anything – in the company of friends.

Eventually, the injured cop must prove all over again that they are fit to serve the community for which they almost gave their lives. There are medical exams, requalifying at the range (after weeks or months of enforced absence, without practice) and an obstacle course to run. Some organizations do not facilitate the officer’s preparation.

All of this is easily changed. With all due respect, an officer who is injured in the line of duty (especially one who is assaulted) did not smash a finger in a desk drawer. They deserve distinctive treatment because the nature and manner of their injury is different. You want to change federal law, Mr. Trump? 

Extend the period of time during which an officer receives a normal paycheck. Allow officers to perform casual duties in the workplace (at their own pace) while on injury leave. Create and maintain funds to defray transportation, child care and rehabilitative services while officers prepare to return to work. Make range instructors and personal trainers available so that the officer is ready to successfully complete the return-to-work tests.

It shouldn't be too hard to figure out what needs to be done. Ask any officer who has fought to return to duty. They will tell you what it took, how hard they struggled, and how the process could have worked for them, instead of against them. The military has done it. It's time for Federal law to catch up. Imagine, member of Congress, the great press generated by a hearing where police heroes tell their stories, and help you craft the Police Hero Rehabilitation Act.

I’ve been lucky. The injuries I’ve sustained in the line of duty have been minor. Some of my friends have not been so fortunate. We owe it to them to make sure they are treated as heroes, and returned to their place along the thin blue line.

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