Philadelphia residents were horrified after a year of record shootings and more than 500 murders in a row, but hundreds of police officers were at home and injured on the job. I was collecting disability benefits for alleged injuries.
In February, a study by the Inquirer revealed that the number of injured police officers had more than doubled to 652 in seven years. It is estimated that 1 in 7 police officers in Philadelphia are unable to work.
What became even more apparent was that the rate of wounded officers was far higher than in other cities. He was less than 1% of Phoenix officers listed as injured. In Tampa, Florida, he was 1% of the number of injured officers, while in Chicago he was 3.3%. However, in Philadelphia, his 11% of sworn officers were listed as wounded.
To add insult to the already suspected injuries, many officers claiming disability benefits ran side hustles, while others rode motorcycles and ran marathons. I was working on the siding. Another traveled as a paid inspirational speaker, yet another ran a clothing store.
Sunlight, as surveyed by The Inquirer, had an immediate effect. Within months, the number of injured officers had dropped by 31% of his. Either this is a coincidence or it shows the healing power of the media.
We welcome more police officers back to work, but the systems that allowed abuse must be reformed.
There are three problems, but all three can be addressed.
The problem stems from problems with Pennsylvania’s so-called Heart and Lung Act. This is primarily a disability benefit for police officers and firefighters. This benefit provides injured officers with their full salary without paying state or federal taxes.In practice, injured workers get at least a 20 pay raise%.
The full payment is much more generous than the 66% other injured people receive through workers’ compensation. Added tax relief provides incentives for abuse. A simple solution is to require injured workers to pay taxes as if they were working.
A second problem is that disability benefits have no cap on how long an officer can take time off or how often a claim can be filed. A survey by the Inquirer found that more than a dozen officers had been unemployed for at least four years in a row. One cop has filed 18 charges in his 19-year career.
Meanwhile, city taxpayers continue to pay the salaries and benefits of the allegedly injured officer. In fiscal 2021, the city spent her $24 million on heart and lungs for police officers, compared to his $8 million in 2008.
A third problem is how the police union selects doctors and determines how long the officers need to recover and whether they can at least perform limited duties. Other large cities, including New York and Chicago, do not give their unions such powers.
Not surprisingly, the Philadelphia Police Union has several go-to doctors who grant most claims. This allows for further abuse by doctors who want to continue receiving referrals from the union.
A state bill introduced after the Inquirer’s inquiry would have required that doctors be selected independently rather than by the police union.
All these proposed changes would be a good first step towards overhauling the heart and lung program.
Former Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said from candid experience, “Heart and lungs are the biggest scams.”
The number of claims declined during Ramsey’s tenure as commissioner from 2008 to 2016, but spiked after he left. Ramsey has shown that strong leadership can make a difference.
Commissioner Daniel Outlaw must hold the rogue officer accountable.
A heart and lung program should be made available to truly injured officers. But abuse of the program further undermines legitimate claims, undermines department morale, and reduces the number of police officers who take to the streets to ensure public safety.
Philadelphia needs police officers who want to solve crimes instead of milking the system.