Annapolis' Disabled Disability Board

December 03, 1992

This week, two Annapolis policemen and one former officer -- all injured in the line of duty -- went before that city's Public Safety Disability Retirement Board in search of justice they should have found long ago.

For two years, despite strong medical evidence to the contrary, the board has insisted Katharine Wheeler, Anthony Davis and Scott Collins are not disabled -- at least they are not disabled enough to warrant retirement benefits. When Annapolis Mayor Alfred Hopkins ordered a new hearing, the three injured officers hoped, finally, to come away with the benefits. Instead, they must wait until Christmas before the board makes its decision.

Why is it taking the Public Safety Disability Review Board so long to come to the obvious conclusion that these officers were legitimately, permanently hurt in the line of duty?

The city's Medical Review Board, a panel of doctors which goes over disability cases, has deemed the three officers disabled. When Mr. Collins appealed to Circuit Court, the judge agreed, ordering the retirement board to reconsider the medical board's ruling. Still, the board insists the officers are not permanently injured.

Disability retirement board members have been inconsiderate as well as narrow-minded.

In Mrs. Wheeler's case, they held a hearing without her knowledge and found she had a preexisting condition (she was subsequently retired anyway, without benefits). This week marked her seventh visit before the board. She, Mr. Collins and Mr. Davis have repeatedly showed up for hearings, only to find one or more board members absent -- despite a law requiring the full board to meet.

The retirement panel was created to make sure that provisions for disabled officers are not abused. In retrospect, it's hard to see what purpose it has served. Wouldn't it make better sense to let the Medical Review Board decide disability cases and the Circuit Court handle all appeals?

As it is, city officers are subject to an absurdly unfair arrangement whereby the retirement board both issues initial rulings and hears appeals. If the city decides to keep the board, it should at least devise an appeals process that gives the appellant a fair chance.

These are difficult times for the Annapolis Police Department. Morale is low, and the city is having trouble holding onto officers. The retirement board isn't the only reason, but it's a big problem that the city should waste no time correcting.

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