Newtown Officers Traumatized By Sandy Hook Shooting Could Get Leaves of Absence

The Hartford Courant

Newtown police officers struggling emotionally after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings may be given up to six months of leave with at least partial pay under an agreement being discussed between the town and union.

The officers could receive at least two-thirds, and possibly 100 percent, of their regular pay as part of the deal, which was being negotiated Wednesday. The negotiators hoped to complete the final details over the next two weeks.

Under their contract, officers get 10 sick days. Officers who haven't returned to work by early next week will run out of sick days and would have to use vacation time if they remain out of work.

Union officials said 13 officers are affected. At least six were the first in the school on Dec. 14, arriving just as Adam Lanza shot himself to death. Lanza killed 20 first graders and six women during a shooting spree inside two classrooms.

Almost all of the officers have tried to return to work. Police union attorney Eric Brown said many will need counseling for years.

"The town is trying to step up and do the right thing," Brown said. "Our concern is to make sure there is a short-term solution in place to help these guys so they don't have to worry about mortgage payments and other bills."

Police Chief Michael Kehoe said officers have been returning to work slowly.

"We are taking steps along the process of healing but everybody is different and we are very sensitive to the issue and leaning on each other for support,'' Kehoe said. "I've been telling officers if you don't feel like you can work today, then don't. There is no handbook on how to handle a situation like this."

Brown said that in an effort to help the town pay for the leaves, the union will seek donations from some of the charities that have been established after the shooting.

In the long term, the union is seeking changes to the state's workers' compensation laws that would allow compensation for employees emotionally injured while performing their jobs. Rep. Stephen Dargan, D-West Haven, has already proposed a bill to change the law.

Currently, state law provides workers' compensation benefits for police officers who are mentally or emotionally impaired by "use of deadly force or subjection to deadly force in the line of duty." Last year, legislators added a similar provision for firefighters who witness the death of another firefighter on duty.

The Newtown department has 45 officers, including administrators. Officers have also been placed at three elementary schools since the shooting and all schools in town now have an officer present.

Newtown police also have an officer at the Sandy Hook Elementary School building 24 hours a day after state police recently released it as a crime scene. .

Kehoe acknowledged that it will be difficult to keep people away from the school and that vandalism could become a problem.

A fence has been installed around the building, with black tarps covering the windows.

"It is possible that we may have to bring in private security to help,'' Kehoe said.

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