Debating Benefits for Slain Police Officers

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By Kurt English | Newport Beach Indy 

Nineteen years ago this week, Newport Beach Police Officer Bob Henry was shot by a drunk suspect who then committed suicide.

Weeks later, Officer Henry died, leaving a wife and three small children. In addition to the personal tragedy this kind of sickening and immoral crime causes, it also imposes long-term financial challenges for the surviving family members.

I asked a representative of the city of Newport Beach some questions about compensation for the families of police officers killed in the line of duty. I learned that the family would receive statutory benefits from California’s Workers Compensation guidelines and a $50,000 life insurance policy.

In Henry’s case, the police department apparently applied for public safety officer benefits from the federal government. His widow and minor children were insured under the CalPERS health plan according to CalPERS guidelines. His children are to receive health insurance coverage up to age 26.

As of publication, I don’t know what the amounts are, or if privacy concerns prevent disclosure.

Is this enough compensation? Workers Compensation payments are often based on formulas, and may be less than insurance payouts. I have asked more questions about the specific dollar amounts. But in Henry’s case, I speculate that if we added up the compensation, it won’t seem adequate given the price he and his family paid in support of our safety.

A $50,000 life insurance payment wouldn’t go very far for a widow and three small children many years away from adulthood. Health insurance from CalPERS is helpful, but how much are the deductibles and the copayments? If CalPERS is providing the basic health insurance, and if there any deductibles and copayments, should the city pay them for the minor children of officers killed in action? That might be $1,000 to $5,000 in some years, and in other years as high as $10,000.

What should Newport Beach do for the families of police officers killed in action?

I advocate either increasing the insurance coverage or having the city pay the additional benefits through self-insurance with a very minor reallocation of the current benefits budget so there is no net spending increase.

One of the least expensive ways to provide more adequate compensation to families of slain police officers might be to increase the insurance coverage from $50,000.

In the case of a widow and three small children, a $500,000 policy would not be luxurious for a widow paying 20 years of food, medical and living expenses for children.  The extra insurance premiums would be small compared to the city’s budget, but make a positive impact on a family of a slain officer. It could also be structured as an annuity tied to the children’s ages to minimize costs.

You might ask where this extra money would come from to compensate families of officers killed in the line of duty? According to the Newport Beach city budget for fiscal year 2013-14, the police department expenses are over $44 million. Of that, the overwhelming majority appears to be salaries and benefits for roughly 200 people.  There are many police department employees making $100,000+ per year, some even $200,000+ per year, with benefits of $50,000 top $100,000 a year.

By transferring an average of about $150 a year out of the benefits of current police employees, the city could provide an affected family with a supplemental payment or increased insurance premium of $30,000 per year, or $2,500 per month, of additional compensation without any net spending increase by the city.

If this supplemental payment had been implemented during the 2013-14 fiscal year as a component of the budget increase for public safety of about $1.5 million, that $30,000 would have been about 2% of the budget increase for public safety and no police department employee would experience any reduction in pay or benefits compared to the previous year.

The taxpayers should really take good financial care of the families of slain officers. If you’re concerned whether there might be any protest from current employees about a $150 a year reduction in benefits or pay increases, the last time Newport Beach had a job opening for a police officer, the city informed me that over 400 people applied.

Kurt English is a lawyer and lives with his family in Newport Beach. 



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