City, union near deal on injured police

Those ineligible to retire would be allowed to stay

March 11, 2005|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

The city and its police union neared an agreement yesterday that could prevent the forced retirements of several injured officers and averts a protest scheduled for Monday at City Hall, union officials said.

Under the deal, which needs the police commissioner's approval, officers who the pension board rules were not seriously enough injured to receive one of the department's two medical pensions will be allowed to remain on the force until they reach their 20-year service anniversary, Fraternal Order of Police officials said. The department could have attempted to force them out at 15 years.

The city and the union have been at odds since January, when the city notified about 160 injured and ill officers that they must apply for retirement or be fired. About 100 of those officers had been injured in the line of duty.

Despite assurances from the city, officers feared they would not qualify for either of the two medical pensions and would be forced out before they qualified for a standard pension, which requires 20 years of service.

"These officers injured in the line of duty felt like they were being thrown away," said Lt. Frederick V. Roussey, president of the city Fraternal Order of Police lodge. "They're not being forced out now. They're going to be guaranteed at least 20 years. It should be a relief to those folks."

City officials declined to comment yesterday, as the plan still needs the approval of acting Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm.

They have said they ordered the retirements to save money and put more officers on the street. The officers who received the notices were either on medical leave or working permanent light-duty jobs, and they were unlikely to patrol again. They account for 5 percent of the city force.

At issue has been how the city pension board will handle the cases of officers being forced to retire. Those who the pension board determines were injured in the line of duty and are disabled are eligible for a tax-free pension that pays two-thirds of the officer's highest salary.

Police who are determined to have been injured while off duty and are disabled are eligible for a standard medical pension - which pays 2.5 percent of their highest salary for every year worked up to 20 years and 2 percent per year for each additional year.

The proposed agreement would not have an impact on whether an officer's injuries are ruled to be in the line of duty.

But the union has contended that few officers would qualify, especially for the higher-paying pension. Previously they have been denied such pensions because they were capable of answering phones and performing other light-duty jobs.

City officials have said that in forcing the retirements, they are eliminating permanent light-duty positions, and therefore officers who can't patrol will be eligible for whichever pension is appropriate.

The agreement under consideration soothes union concerns about potential effects of pension board decisions, Roussey said. If Hamm approves the deal, officers who have been asked to retire but who don't qualify for a pension will not be forced out of the department until they reach 20 years of service. That milestone is significant because that's when any officer can retire and receive a regular pension: half the officer's highest salary.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke was preparing to introduce legislation Monday that she said would have barred the city from forcing into retirement officers who were injured in the line of duty. It's still possible, she said, but may not be necessary.

"The community has a certain contract with our police officers," Clarke said. "They risk their lives for us, and we will stand behind them if they injure themselves doing so."

Roussey said he was planning a protest in front of City Hall before the City Council meeting.

"Obviously there's no need for that now because the city agreed to treat them like human beings," Roussey said. "We're grateful."

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