A union official said Wednesday that some police officers who responded to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut could wind up not being paid. A handful of officers who responded to the shooting have not been working because they have suffered so much trauma. The officers have been using sick time, according to the Associated Press.
Council 15 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees is in talks with the town’s insurer. The union is also talking to lawmakers and the office of the governor in an effort to expand workers’ compensation benefits for police officers who respond to horrific crime scenes.
“The insurer for the town has taken a position that these officers are entitled to only what the statute allows. Unfortunately for these officers, the statute doesn’t allow any benefits,” said Eric Brown, an attorney for the union, which represents nearly 4,000 officers around Connecticut.
Officers who responded to the shooting at Sandy Hook entered the building to find 20 children and six adults shot dead by a lone gunman. Brown noted that the number of officers ‘critically affected’ by the scene is under 15 and that a tiny number of them are not working right now.
Lt. George Sinko, a spokesman for Newtown police, said that the officers are holding up well for the most part. “A couple of them are taking it harder than some of the other ones,” he said. “The things that the officers had to experience underscores the need to support them in every way possible.”
The insurer for Newtown is Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency. The agency did not issue a comment regarding this story.
Advocates have tried to change workers’ compensation laws in the past. The laws currently cover officers who suffer mental impairment for being exposed to deadly force, but not for officers who see crime scenes with massive casualties. State Rep. Stephen Dargan, a Democrat from West Haven, said that the issue will probably come up in the next legislation session.
“We don’t want it to be used in an abusive way, but the circumstances are so horrific in Newtown. We need to protect those first responders and give them all the help we can give them,” he said.
Counseling services have been provided for the officers, but Brown noted that supporting the officers is necessary in the long term. He said that officers using sick time could use it all up by January.
“The emotional loads they’re carrying far exceed anything they could imagine,” Brown said.