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Friday, May 6, 2016

Officers, chief astonished by lack of coverage after injuries

Monday, February 20, 2006

- Police not eligible for workman's comp, have to settle for much less

When Sgt. Dave Archer was injured in the line of duty during a routine investigation Jan. 13, he assumed he would be taken care of through one of several disability plans available to city workers.

But as he investigated his options, he was shocked to learn just how little he was entitled to.

Archer and Patrolman Chris Blila, who both sustained possible ligament damage in their hands and wrists during the altercation, could receive about 55 percent of their salary through the Public Employee Retirement Fund -- but not before they exhaust all the sick days they've accumulated over their careers. A leave-of-absence plan offered by the city would pay the officers 50 percent of their salaries for six months.

But because police and fire workers are not eligible for salary compensation through workman's comp (which pays close to 70 percent of an injured worker's salary), their disability earnings will be significantly less than those of a city employee in any other department.

"It makes you not want to go out and risk your life out here, because they'll cut your pay down to 50 percent," Archer said. "That kind of hurts me."

Archer and Blila have opted to apply for leave-of-absence benefits through the city, with the issue to be decided at a Thursday hearing before the Brazil Board of Works. While they'll only receive about one half of their usual pay, they agree it's a better option than the 55 percent offered by PERF, part of a plan specifically geared to meet the needs of police and fire workers.

The situation facing the injured officers has bewildered some city officials, as evidenced by the discussion at the last city council meeting. 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 Police Chief Mark 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.

Loudermilk was "astonished" to learn that police and fire personnel were legally entitled to so little.

"If somebody at the city garage broke their leg fixing a pothole, they'd get 67 percent. That's crazy," he said.

Archer and Blila still don't know when they'll be able to return to force. Ligaments in Blila's wrist and hand may still require surgery, and neither has received a firm answer from their doctors telling them when they'll be cleared to go back to work.

In the meantime, they'll have to struggle to make ends meet.

"It's frustrating," Blila said. "Disability won't even cover my bills."

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