Injury leave abuse by state law enforcement officers?

Updated: Jan. 30, 2012 at 5:54 PM EST
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STATEWIDE, NC (WECT) - Salary continuation is a perk for certain state law enforcement officers who are injured in the line of duty, but inside sources say the program is being abused.  That abuse could be costing tax payers millions of dollars a year.

People who suffer on the job injuries typically get workers compensation.  After a waiting period - workers comp pays an employee a percentage of their salary while they are off the job.

But with North Carolina's salary continuation program, the employee never misses a paycheck, and can stay home from work indefinitely.  We're told that's prompting some people to game the system.

The Department of Corrections paid out $8 million in 2011 alone to 381 employees and former employees who were hurt while on the clock.  Only 46 of those employees were injured by offenders they were policing.  Many of the other 335 people suffered more mundane injuries - slips and falls, strained backs, and the like, that had little or nothing to do with the offenders they were supervising.

Nevertheless, these employees are still off the job, drawing full pay, and accruing benefits for the first two years, and then 2/3 of their salary indefinitely, all on the tax payer dime.

In this time of layoffs and massive budget cuts, that has some people, like Senator Thom Goolsby, wondering if this salary continuation program should be revised.

"When we find that it's being used in other ways that aren't injuries while combating crime, or dealing with issues directly in the prison that are related to inmate control, that appears to violate the spirit of why that law was originally created," said Goolsby.

The Department of Corrections is just one state employer that offers salary continuation.  State law enforcement officers from almost two dozen agencies are also eligible for this benefit, including state university police officers, Ports Authority Police, even drivers license examiners.  When you add them all up, it's a lot of people, and a lot of money.

City and county law enforcement officers don't enjoy the same coverage.  That New Hanover County sheriff's deputy injured in a head-on collision with the man driving the wrong way on Martin Luther King parkway?  He's only eligible for workers comp.

That's a reality for most of the work force - even though there are a lot of folks out there with jobs that put them in harms way.

There is one employee out on salary continuation from New Hanover Correctional, one from Pender Correctional, and seven from Columbus Correctional.  Nobody with the Department of Corrections – which is now being called the Department of Public Safety - was willing to do an interview with us about salary continuation, or the concerns we've heard from state law enforcement officers who say they've seen this program abused.

Senator Goolsby chairs the Oversight Committee on Justice and Public Safety, and said he will be looking into ways to revise the way salary continuation is handled.  Goolsby also wants to encourage more people to come forward information about with waste, fraud and abuse in their workplace.  He says he's working to pass legislation that would give people a monetary reward for coming forward.

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