Maryland County Distinguishes Between Serious and Minor Disability for Cops, Claims Plummet



This weekend The Washington Post's editorial board praised the county government in Montgomery County, Maryland, for implementing a rule change that stopped largely healthy cops from leaving the force early with full disability. The board explained:

To recap: Over the five years that ended in 2009, 91 officers in Montgomery were awarded disability pensions, which are tax free. That amounted to more than 60 percent of all retirees from the police force. By comparison, just three officers in Fairfax County received such a benefit over the same span.

In the past two years, following the council's reform, just four of more than 80 retiring officers made disability claims.

The root of the problem was that the department did not have — and the police union would not accept — a common-sense distinction between serious and minor impairments. Officers who suffered nothing more than sore backs and knees — the usual problems — were treated no differently than the very rare officer paralyzed from the waist down. And it was not uncommon for youngish officers with relatively minor disabilities to retire with full benefits and take full-time jobs elsewhere — sometimes physically demanding ones.

Police were the only county employees without tiered disability. While the law created new pension liabilities, the county estimated it would save $1.9 million in 2013 because the reforms would lower the number of retired cops pulling a full disability package. Importantly, the county's reforms include prohibiting cops about to be fired from receiving a disability package—a disturbingly common practice that common sense ought to reject. County legislators apparently got the idea from the "bad boy" provision in Social Security that prohibits payments to prisoners.

The Fraternal Order of Police fought all the changes, and even scuttled them the first time they were proposed, when the county "reformed" the public employee's disability system in 2009.  It's a sweet deal. While Montgomery County isn't the only place where cops have abused disability for a fatter pay day, the exploitation of disability isn't usually so explicitly above board. Often it comes with at least the appearance that it's an impropriety, although disability payments are in the tool box "public servants" use to pad their early retirements.

h/t Walter Olson

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  1. County legislators apparently got the idea from the “bad boy” provision in Social Security that prohibits payments ot prisoners.

    I first read that as “payments of prisoners”, implying a convict labor system, but then I saw the typo.

  2. “Importantly, the county’s reforms include prohibiting cops about to be fired from receiving a disability package?a disturbingly common practice that common sense ought to reject.”

    Well, there’s your problem right there–you can’t rely on common sense for these kinds of things!

  3. “Look, I was stapling the pages of a report together when the stapler sunk into my thumb! I still haven’t recovered from the trauma. Thank God I receive disability benefits from that injury. You haters just don’t understand what it’s like out there on the mean streets.”

  4. Applied to claims already being paid?

  5. sore backs and knees….

    I suppose failing eyesight and balding were also valid disability claims? Wrinkles? Shortness of breath from blowing out too many candles on bday cake?

  6. We have a situation here in New Hampshire with a cop who was running a drug sting in which an unarmed man was shot and killed (cop was not the triggerman). The cop was let go. Allegedly he had been trying to influence the internal investigation, tampering with witnesses etc before his dismissal. HOWEVER, he now claims he has PTSD, but is angling to get his job back. Apparently if the town decides to re-hire him, his PTSD will be cured (!). IT’s a murky messy situation, but the conventional wisdom is he wants to get rehired so he can claim PTSD while on duty, so THEN he can claim the disability pension. These guys really have no shame.

  7. 91 officers in Montgomery were awarded disability pensions, which are tax free

    Long term disability (like most insurance payments) is tax free for everyone.

  8. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. Our fearless boys in blue would never offer the civilian public any less than their utmost effort to keep them safe. And I’m certain they would never dream of taking disability unless they were dragged from our service, their bodies wasting away.

    /do I even need to?

  9. Out here in the real world, if you are out on total disability and take another job,

    You lose your total disability payments.

    All Hail the Master Class!

  10. The Post compares a five year period to a two year period and leaves out the intervening years. The Post article link reads “With the new rules a year away, more officers could apply. ‘I expect a spike in claims as employees try to get in under the old system,'”

    The packet linked read on the first page that the Council “?amended the disability retirement laws to create the same two-tier system for police and general government employees that already existed for fire and rescue employees.”

    The article linked doesn’t refer to any practice where police officers to be fired retire on a disability. How common is it? You have some data? Reference?

    The legislative packet says police officers wanted the Social Security standard. The legislators rejected it. Officers wanted the same standard that applies to everyone else.

    The publicly accessible transcript of the vote on the bill says the union agreed to all the changes. Only the reduction in benefit was fought.

    If you’re going to work at Reason, you need to use it. Pieces like this undercut your credibility. Unfortunately, it is the state of reporting today.

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