If something happens to me while I am working, my family and I will be taken care of by the Department.
When you are a brand new, fresh out-of-the-wrapper cop, people who you have known in your former life are prone to asking questions like, “Aren’t you worried (or afraid) of getting hurt or killed when you are on duty?”
Typically, these types of thoughts and questions are quickly dismissed for one of many reasons. You might be on an entry team about ready to bust down a door. You might be arriving at a location where a ‘man-with-a-gun’ has been reported. Or, you might be standing next to your spouse at a social gathering.
No matter the situation, you don’t want negative thoughts to weigh you down or worry those who care about you.
If you have been in this game more than a few hours, you have read about, heard about or know someone who has lost their life in the Line of Duty. Our collective focus is on those who have died while in uniform.
For example, in the last few days, we lost a Douglas County Colorado deputy named Zackari Parrish. He was just 29 years old and left behind a wife and two young daughters. It has been said that he loved his job and the people in his life In that same incident, three other cops were wounded by the same gunman who killed Deputy Parrish.
As is typical, the larger community may have heard the names of the three wounded officers. Maybe not. Unless you are in very close proximity to Douglas County, it is highly unlikely that you know the condition of those officers or their prognosis.
They might have been transported to the hospital, treated and released shortly after the incident. Or, they may yet be in the hospital with career-ending injuries which may yet take their life.
My point: we don’t pay much attention to those who are injured; only those who died.
Right, wrong or otherwise, that’s just the way it is.
WE ASSUME THE FUTURE WILL BE GOOD
When I was working the street full-time, I recall getting ready each day. It was a well-choreographed ritual: under-garments, pants, duty boots, uniform shirt, inner belt and then gun belt.
The remainder of getting ‘geared-up’ was a well-sequenced check of collar brass, name plate, and everything else it took to complete the metamorphosis of becoming a street cop.
Occasionally, I would catch my wife watching intently. I know she watched every day. The look of worry in her eyes spoke volumes while her words did their best to conceal her concern.
For me, occasionally, I would think about the possibility that something could go terribly wrong on any day or any call. I would reassure myself thinking that if I got hurt – or worse – the department would take care of my family – and me, if I survived. I just took it for granted.
One might say I adopted the Alfred E. Newman philosophy: “What, me worry?”
My gut tells me that most cops’ thoughts on this subject run parallel to mine.
The stories in the news these days convicts us all for having our heads in the sand. We have been kidding ourselves by believing our departments would take care of us and meet our needs forever more.
REAL STORIES ABOUT REAL COPS
What follows are very real excerpts from the lives of three very real cops.
Lou Golson was an officer with the Albuquerque [NM] Police Department. In 2015, Golson made a traffic stop during which he was shot four times by a suspected DUI driver.
He sustained injuries from which he will never fully recover.
At this time, he has spent more than a year in mediation with the city trying to settle his worker’s compensation claim.
“I thought the nightmare was getting shot,” Golson said. “But the actual nightmare was surviving, financially, for my family.”
In a recent interview, Golson said he has encountered ongoing struggles to negotiate a settlement with the city to cover future medical expenses and permanent injuries that stem from his January, 2015 shooting.
“I’ve kept quiet about it for almost three years now,” he said. “But my issues started the day I got out of the hospital.” Golson said he was hoping the city would agree to pay $120,000 for future medical bills.
Doctors have told him he will eventually need hip and knee replacements and possibly back surgeries because of the shooting.
Golson said the city recently offered $4,000 to cover those future costs.
He estimated that so far, he has spent about $10000 in out-of-pocket medical expenses. He is in constant pain and suffered nerve damage.
“I had no clue it would be such a nightmare,” Golson said.
“What I had heard, and what everyone in the world had heard, is that if you are a cop and you are hurt in the line of duty, and you survive, you will be taken care of. That is not the case, whatsoever.”
Golson went on, “It’s not the way it is. And these poor officers don’t understand that until they are in this situation.”
Eddie Richardson was a deputy with the Lexington County (South Carolina) Sheriff’s Office.
In 2016, he was pursuing a burglary suspect who hit him with a stolen car. He suffered extensive injuries: nerve damage, a destroyed spinal disc and torn cartilage in his hip.
Pain is part of his everyday life. It’s tough for him to walk and even sit for long periods. The result has been the end of his law enforcement career.
Like most of us, he believed that in the event that something like this happened, his agency would “take care” of him and his family. Boy, was he wrong.
Richardson says he has “no clue” what he will be able to do to provide for his family. “I don’t know if I will be able to work,” said Richardson following his latest back surgery on December 4th. He went on, “I’m pretty much bed-ridden now, I get winded walking to the kitchen.”
Richardson was forced to take a medical retirement. Just days prior to the retirement, he was informed that he would not be provided with health insurance for himself and his family.
Richardson pled his case to the County Council. They denied his request.
Workers Compensation has been covering his medical costs related to the injury at work. However, that leaves his wife and children with nothing. Additionally, getting medical coverage for himself and his family will cost about $2,000 monthly. His disability income is just $3,000 monthly.
The math just doesn’t work.
Fighting this in court is an option. His attorney suggest it will be a 2 to 3 year court battle.
Richardson says he was always told while working in law enforcement that he and his family would be taken care of in the case that anything happened to him while on the job.
Another cop got a big surprise that he didn’t expect or want.
Christopher DeRosa was an officer with the Edgewater (Florida) Police Department.
In 2013, Chris was shift sergeant and out on active patrol. He was sitting at a traffic light when another driver who was traveling about 50mph rear-ended his patrol car.
He suffered injuries to multiple locations on his spine with a loss of control of his strong hand. These injuries proved to be career-ending when Chris was just 33 years old and had 13 years on.
Like most cops, he expected the city to be sympathetic and supportive.
After being off work recovering for 90 days, he was told that he must either return or be terminated. He returned to the road .
He was seeing the workers compensation designated doctors for treatment, but his condition worsened. The pain in his back became intolerable.
Chris took a transfer to a desk job: working on CALEA certification and handling the IA function.
In September, 2015 his doctor determined that he could no longer work as a cop, i.e. in an enforcement capacity. His department promptly took away his take-home vehicle and his weapon. Chris filed to receive a disability pension bernefits.
Six months later, a decision on his pension had not yet been made. He was called to the HR office and terminated. His income ceased and his family’s medical coverage ceased at month end.
By the time he received his first disability pension check, he had lived without any income for nearly six more months. He has a wife and two young children to support.
Chris fought for nearly another year before the City Council finally agreed to provide medical insurance for him, alone. They offered nothing for his family..
DISCLAIMER: Chris is a very close friend/brother to me. I did my best to help and support him through this most difficult time. I care deeply for him.
There were too many struggles and difficulties throughout this time period to recount here. Suffice it to say that any expectation that the police department would “take care” of one of its injured cops is completely wrong.
BOY SCOUT MOTTO: “BE PREPARED”
It’s a good motto for cops, too.
Living in the belief that in the event of a serious on-the-job injury will result in the agency “taking care” of you (and your family) has proven to be a myth.
It is a sad state of affairs
On a positive note, it may still be true in some agencies. But, you won’t know unless you ask.
NOW is the time to ask the tough questions. Here are a few for you to chew on. They all start with, ‘If I am hurt and cannot work,’
- What will my income be over the long term?
- How much will I be paid once I am no longer able to work?
- What specific agencies, organizations, insurance companies or otherwise will be responsible for providing an income for me & my family?
- In the event I am permanently disabled, will I receive an uninterrupted income until the disability pension payments start?
- Who will be responsible for the medical costs associated with my recovery?
- Who decides what medical professionals will be selected to provide my care?
- Will I continue to receive medical insurance from the department / city / county if I am unable to return to work?
This is just a sampling of the questions you might want to have answered.
The point is this: once you are injured, you can no longer negotiate from a position of strength. You are at the mercy of the department.
The time to get answers is while you are still healthy and able to work.
These issues are a lot like insurance. If you need more, the time to get it is when you are strong and well. Once you are on the injured list, insurance will become incredibly expensive – if you can get it, at all.
Your employer is not like your father. The boss doesn’t have an emotional attachment to you. Decisions about what you receive in benefits will be reduced to dollars, cents and the accountant’s recommendation.
In addition to the physical and mental damage from a serious injury, it can spell financial ruin, as well. For Chris, it led to bankruptcy.
Your job is to take care of your family. In order to ensure your ability to do that you must BE PREPARED. Today is the day; this is the time.
At the bottom line, it’s all about saving just ONE life.
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The Albuquerque Journal and the Westside News contributed to this article.
Feel free to call me at my home office: (386) 763-3000.