DEP cops and line-of-duty injury benefits

April 3, 2008 4:46:12 PM PDT
Every police officer in New York is guaranteed wage and health care protection should they get injured on the job.There is one exception - the officers who guard New York's water supply. If they get hurt, they could go months without pay.

The Investigators' Jim Hoffer has the story.

They graduate from a police academy, they carry a gun and, if called upon, put their lives on the line. But police officers for the city's Department of Environmental Protection get very little protection if injured in the line of duty.

On February 2, DEP police sergeant Ed Klan got a call of shots fired inside a home near the reservoir where he patrols. While responding, Klan lost control on the icy road.

"County, be advised, I just crashed my vehicle," he radioed in. "It's a roll-over."

"At that time, I was pinned inside my vehicle," he said.

Klan suffered neck and shoulder injuries that he says continue to cause him serious pain. He's home from work while awaiting further medical treatment. His vacation and sick time have run out and so, he says, has the money.

Hoffer: "How are you getting through this period where you are not getting a paycheck?"
Klan: "Home equity line of credit, we have updated on our home."
Hoffer: "You're kidding, so you had to refinance?"
Klan: "Correct."

Klan, an 8-year-veteran of the DEP, is officially on leave without pay. He has decided to speak out to draw attention to the fact that the 150 officers that protect New York's water have no line-of-duty injury benefits.

"They just won't give it to us, period," DEP police union head Kenneth Wynder said. "They say we're not real cops, and we're not entitled to the line of duty injury."

Wynder says DEP police are the only law enforcement agency in the entire state without coverage for injuries during the line of duty.

"It's an insult," he said. "These guys put on a vest, they carry a gun, they put their life on the line. Anywhere in the state, we're considered police officers except in the city of New York, which is what we protect."

The DEP, in a statement to Eyewitness News, says that their police force isn't covered by line-of-duty injury pay because of state law.

But the state law hasn't stopped the city from providing these benefits to NYPD officers, and the state provides line-of-duty injury pay to state police troopers, to Department of Conservation police and to state park rangers. They all get it, but not the DEP police.

"They deserve the same benefits that our other first responders receive," City Councilman Peter Vallone said.

Vallone, the chair of City Council's public safety committee, says New York must stand by all their law enforcement officers.

"It doesn't make any sense to force them to rely on their savings to get them through a certain period when we can provide that benefit for them," he said. "They deserve it."

Less than 24 hours after we called to ask the DEP questions about this story, the city approved worker's compensation stipends for Sergeant Klan.