When two of his officers were injured in the line of duty last month, their health was Brazil Police Chief Mark Loudermilk's primary concern. But as Sgt. Dave Archer and Patrolman Chris Blila steadily recover from their injuries, Loudermilk's focus has shifted to their financial well-being.
Archer and Blila, who sustained their injuries while investigating a domestic disturbance Jan. 13 at the Brazil home of Larry Douglas Winn, topped the agenda when the Brazil Police Pension Board convened for its bi-annual meeting Friday. Loudermilk is hopeful that both officers will be able to return soon enough to avoid filing for long-term disability benefits, but said he wants to make sure all their financial bases are covered in the event of an extended absence.
"(The pension board has) to initiate the stuff to go on disability, take a vote, things like that," he said, adding that applications for disability benefits take 30 to 60 days to process. "You can't apply today and get it tomorrow. You have to get the ball rolling a lot earlier."
Both officers sustained injuries to their arms and hands during the altercation with Winn and his son Brandon. Blila was initially expected to return to the force earlier than Archer, who may have suffered ligament damage while trying to protect his handgun from his assailants. At this point, Loudermilk said, it isn't clear when either of the officers will be permitted by their doctors to go back to work.
"We really don't know how long the two officers will be out," he said. "It could be a matter of a few days, it could be longer."
If Blila and Archer are able to return to the force in a matter of weeks or even days, Loudermilk said they'll be able to use a combination of the sick days and vacation days they have accrued-- for which they would receive full pay-- to cover their absence. An extended leave would require the officers to pursue other options.
The police department includes workman's compensation insurance in its budget each year, and Loudermilk confirmed the policy will cover the injured officers' medical bills in their entirety. But he admitted he wasn't aware of the limitations of workman's compensation -- specifically, as it applies to police and fire department personnel.
"The law doesn't allow us to even have insurance to cover police and fire," he said. "We just never knew that."
A city employee in any other city department would receive 67 percent of their salary in disability benefits in addition to their medical expenses. But police and fire workers receive salary compensation through the Public Employees Retirement Fund (PERF), which uses a different formula to deter mine disability compensation. PERF's '77 Fund pays police officers on disability 45 percent of the salary of a first-class patrolman ($34,063 in Brazil), as well as an additional percentage determined by the severity of their injury.
Loudermilk said an officer paralyzed in the line of duty would likely receive the full 100 percent of a first-class partrolman's salary. But he predicted the injuries sustained by Archer and Blila would warrant only an additional 10 percent.
The City of Brazil offers its employees a six-month leave-of-absence package with 50 percent pay, another option available to Blila and Archer if either is forced to extend their leave.
The situation facing the injured officers has bewildered some city officials, as evidenced by the discussion at Tuesday's city council session. Mayor Tom Arthur and Councilwoman Pat Heffner both expressed shock that officers injured in the line of duty would not receive full pay while they recovered.
"These guys were injured in the line of duty," Arthur said. "This is a no-brainer."
Councilman James Sheese suggested the officers receive their full salaries as appropriated in the city's 2006 budget. But according to Loudermilk, Sheese's idea is not only less-than-viable-- it's illegal.
"There's no law that allows us to continue to pay them full pay," he said.
A yearly audit by the state board of accounts would catch such a transgression, Loudermilk said, and the officers would be forced to pay the money back themselves.
"That's just the way the system's set up," he said.
While Archer and Blila may be forced to seek longer-term solutions if they use up their vacation and sick time, Loudermilk said he is confident the two will stay afloat.
"Their jobs are secure until they come back, and they will receive compensation through one of these options," he said.