DEP officer's injury benefits

March 4, 2009 3:49:32 PM PST
He was critically injured investigating a possible crime. But because he works for New York City's Department of Environmental Protection, officer Eric Hoffman could go for months without pay while he recovers.So why don't officers with the DEP receive the same benefits as city police officers who are hurt on the job? They train at a police academy, carry a gun and guard the city's water supply, yet the 150 environmental protection officers are on their own when seriously hurt on the job.

Since Eyewitness News first reported this problem nearly a year ago, nothing has changed. And now, another officer lies in critical condition while the city he vowed to protect doesn't have his back.

911 Dispatch: "911 what's the emergency?"
Caller: "Someone's in the woods yelling for help."

Yelling for help was DEP police officer Eric Hoffman. While patrolling the New York City Watershed last Sunday, he lost control of his all-terrain vehicle while in pursuit of trespassers.

Caller: "Some guy crashed his quad and he's in the woods."
911 Dispatch: "Try not to move him unless he's in danger."

Officer Hoffman remains in critical condition at Westchester County Medical Center. His father says he has months of rehabilitation ahead of him.

"He has multiple injuries to both lungs, collar bone, pelvis, broken right arm and fractured skull," James Hoffman said.

But he has little time to heal since in the eyes of the city, he's not seen as police officer, despite his badge and gun. Therefore, he has no line-of-duty injury benefits. While lying in the intensive care, Hoffman will use his sick and vacation time. When it runs out, his paycheck and medical benefits stop.

Eyewitness News Reporter Jim Hoffer: "So what you are saying is these DEP police officers go and protect the water supply every day, but the city doesn't have their back?"
Kenneth Wynder, DEP Police Union: "No, they don't. I've sat down with the top negotiators from the mayor's office, have said they are not real cops and they want to give then a civilian contract, which shows me they look at them as civilians. They're police officers."

The city had little to say about the lack of line-of-duty injury benefits, but DEP released the following statement: "We are extremely pleased that officer Hoffman's condition is stabilizing, and we are extremely grateful to him for his dedicated service. We are in touch with his family on a daily basis, and we will be facilitating the delivery of the complete range of benefits to which he is entitled as a New York City employee."

Last year, we reported on another DEP police officer injured when his car slid on an icy road while responding to a call. He was out of work for months. When his vacation and sick days ran out, he had to refinance his home to get money to pay the bills. Now the clock is ticking on another DEP officer hurt in the line of duty, yet he is ineligible for the same wage and health protection guaranteed the NYPD and every other law enforcement officer in the state.

"He has the badge, he has the gun, he walks out the door every morning," James Hoffman said. "And of course he's walking into a world where you don't know who you're going to stop."

Like all city employees, officer Hoffman will be able to apply for worker's compensation. But that can take months of wrangling with red tape to get it approved.