Long overdue protections [Editorial]

The Aegis

Legislation pending before the Maryland General Assembly that would in effect standardize police disability pensions across the State of Maryland at 66 2/3 percent of the officer’s former pay is a common sense necessity and long overdue.

Unfortunately, it took a tragedy to bring the issue to the forefront: The shooting and wounding of Aberdeen Police Officer Jason Easton in December 2015, as he was investigating a citizen’s complaint of a threat made against him.

As Easton talked with the citizen in the latter’s back yard early in the morning, the shooter and an accomplice were hiding in a nearby wooded area. The shooter unloaded a shotgun. Pellets struck Easton in the face and eye.

Easton recovered, but not to the point where he could resume normal police duties in the eyes of the Aberdeen department and its chief. He took early retirement on disability, because he had no choice, but that’s when it came to forefront that Aberdeen’s disability pension was much lower as a percentage of a police officer’s wages than many other departments.

Aberdeen Chief Henry Trabert and Assistant Chief Kirk Bane warned the city manager, mayor and city council in October 2016 that the city’s provisions for police officers forced to retire on disability were substandard. They all but said that Easton was going to be medically cleared to work soon, but might not be able to work as a police officer and would not be getting anywhere near from Aberdeen’s retirement system what officers in similar situations in other departments could count upon. That’s what happened a short time later.

Easton had retirement credits with Aberdeen and another department and was also able to collect workers compensation because of his injury, which he has said combined to give him 66 2/3 percent of his former pay. He also landed a job working for the Harford County Sheriff’s Office in a security position.

But it also didn’t mean that Easton, his wife, Sandi, and their children didn’t spend the better part of a year and half on edge about their future income. It should not have been that way.

Unfortunately, with no standard regulation in this area, individual police agencies and the jurisdictions that fund them make the call on retirement and disability. The bigger agencies can typically afford to be more generous, the smaller ones, like a municipal PD, not so much. That doesn’t make any sense in a state that already has an overabundance of individual police agencies operating – especially at the state government level, and particularly so because there are other standardized pension systems, such as those for teachers and for elected officials.

“There are no rules to follow and just no direction for when officers get injured,” Sandi Easton told Aegis staff member Erika Butler. “We know what we have to do when an officer dies, but what do we do when they survive? How do we take care of them after an injury?”

The primary sponsor of House Bill 971 is Harford Del. Mary Ann Lisanti, with whom Sandi Easton worked to get the ball rolling in Annapolis. Jason Easton won’t be affected by the legislation, if it does pass, but he and his wife say they don’t want to see what happened to them faced by another injured officer and his loved ones.

“We don’t want to see anyone else go through what we did, what we have seen other officers [go through], what potentially every other officer in this county could go through,” Sandi Easton said.

We agree. There should be no excuse for not treating every man and woman, who takes an oath to protect and serve their fellow citizens, fairly and equitably. Each one injured in the line of duty should have uniform protection, no matter where they serve.

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