Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Philly Cops: Paid to stay home

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Each day, nearly one in 10 Philadelphia police officers is unavailable for duty. That's due in part to a system that encourages injured officers to stay off the job as long as possible, at more than full pay.

In 2005, an average of 87 officers per month were unable to work due to injuries. But last year, the number of "injured-on-duty" officers had risen to 241 per month.

Policing the city is a dangerous job, but it's not three times more dangerous than it was in 2005. At a time when the department is trying to get as many officers on the street as possible, this disability trend is hindering that goal.

The city said the number of officers injured each year hasn't changed much, but the amount of time that injured cops stay off duty has increased dramatically.

That's because the city, after a long battle with the police unions, agreed in 2005 to abide by a state disability law that puts no limit on how long officers can stay off duty. That system is still in place. It allows injured officers to see doctors selected by their union, and officers don't have to go back to work until the doctor authorizes it.

If an officer disagrees with a recommendation to return to full or partial duty, he or she can appeal to a three-member panel. During the appeal, which can take months, the officer remains off duty.

While listed as "injured-on-duty," officers collect full pay without paying federal, state, or local income taxes. It's effectively a 20-percent pay raise for not working.

Last year, the new policy cost the city $13.8 million in police salaries.