Hundreds of Washington, D.C., police officers have collected full pay but not worked full duty — some for years at a time, the Washington Post reports. The problem prompted the city two years ago to tighten rules governing medical claims. The number of officers away from full duty has dropped. But with crime still a pressing problem, police officials struggle to keep enough officers on the streets. More than 4 percent of the city’s nearly 3,800 officers are unavailable for full duty because of injury or illness. After a string of homicides this summer, Police Chief Charles Ramsey spent $10 million in overtime and resorted to six-day workweeks and vacation restrictions to beef up police presence in neighborhoods. Last week, homicides spiked again.
The illness and injury claims have cost the city millions in salaries, medical care, disability payments, and lost work hours. The department’s tolerance for long-running absences — whether illnesses are genuine or exaggerated — has left residents without the full police protection they were funding. One officer who hurt his knee at the police academy without ever making it on patrol did limited work at full pay for five years. Another officer who injured his legs in an off-duty motorcycle accident earned full pay but worked partial duty for 14 years. “Shame on us,” Ramsey said, when asked to look over a collection of injury reports that his department had approved. “If you’re going to fight crime, you have to have people on the street, and this problem means I don’t have as many as I could.” In late 2003, 11 percent of the force was out, the equivalent of an entire police district. Despite tighter standards, the department still has a generous benefit “unheard of in private industry and public service,” an internal department memo said.