New York has made a compact with police officers: Their incomes will be preserved for life in the event that they are disabled in the line of duty.
Thus, cops irreparably rendered unfit for duty are made financially whole through pensions equal to as much as three-quarters of their pay, tax-free, instead of the standard retirement package equal to 50% of salary. Cops on disability pensions go with the public’s blessings.
But evidence uncovered by the Daily News indicates some may be abusing the privilege. They go with the blessings of a wastrel Medical Board and the trustees of the police retirement system.
They are also protected by trustees who defy the Freedom of Information Law in refusing to open for public inspection the names of retirees and their pension amounts.
The News has brought to light four cases in which former cops are collecting disability pensions while they have been gainfully employed in physical demanding jobs or engaged in challenging athletic activity.
Christopher DePaolis, 43, has gotten $82,069 in annual benefits while working as a sheriff’s deputy in Florida and running half marathons.
Rachel Niccoll, 44, has collected $66,083 annually while competing in triathlons.
Derek Huebner, 48, became a body-builder as he got checks totaling $40,885 a year.
James “Sugar” Kane, 51, has received more than $1 million in monthly installments of $3,415 since 1991 and has worked as a bodyguard to celebrities including Britney Spears.
Prompted by The News, the Department of Investigation has begun a well-warranted probe. Clearly the Medical Board and fund trustees made bad calls. Just as clearly, the pension system failed to monitor the conditions of former officers who have been awarded disability pensions. DOI must study all of that while also searching for signs of outright criminal fraud.
By law, trustees can order a pensioner to take a physical exam and, if found fit, to return to duty within 20 years of joining the force.
They have now ordered triathlete Nicoll to face the possibility of having to resume duties for the last months of the two-decade mark. Separately, the Florida sheriff’s office canned DePaolis.
In cases involving the most severe injuries, there will be no doubt who is deserving. The credibility of other claims will be harder to determine. Back and neck injuries, for example, can be difficult to diagnose or attribute to on-the-job action.
That’s why the pension fund must make public the names of retirees and their payments.
The Empire Center has waged a years-long legal battle to post pension information on its seethroughny.net website. The courts have ordered one union after another to comply, with the police unions still holding back.
The latest ruling, from Acting Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Peter Sweeney, has ordered release of the names and pension amounts of retired correction officers. But the city and correction union may again file a time-wasting appeal.
The information must be posted, including for cops. Taxpayer scrutiny will help detect abuse.
© 2016 New York Daily News