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