The Patrol-Admin Dichotomy: Promoting to a Position with Administrative and Law Enforcement Responsibilities (and Stress)
By Steve Scardino, Esq.
The cold hard truth is, all police jobs are dangerous, with intensity unknown by most people in the civilian world. The great paradox in law enforcement is the concept that moving to a primarily administrative position can be just as dangerous, with the stresses inherent to managing subordinates, and the pressures that come with the often precarious position of having to report infractions to the upper administration. Situational management requires nerves of steel, political savvy and the ability to assess and attenuate risks on a daily basis. Even under the best of circumstances, the requirement to "police" the police can wedge administrative lawmen and women between the rock of rules and regulations, and the realities of old allegiances and loyalties among the rank and file. The challenges of admin work can be richly satisfying, as problem solving is something that comes naturally to police officers. However, being under glass at all times can take its toll on physical and emotional health.
Because it is unpopular to discuss injury, disability and medical treatment in the police community, officers put great pressure on themselves to "work through" injuries. The tendency is to suppress complaints and subscribe to the school of wishful thinking; that is, hoping that the problem will simply go away.
Illnesses that affect those in admin positions are not necessarily different from those that can affect officers who spend all of their time on patrol, or in detective assignments. However, administrative stressors, as discussed, are unique, and, can result in the double-whammy of delayed treatment and denial for the sake of maintaining the "status quo." Some officers in admin positions, such as the rank and file, treat with their own physicians, even where the illness or injury is presumptive. Don't forget that there are time limits, and evidence that you knew about an injury but did not file can still affect your case, and, in many cases, can prevent you from being properly treated and compensated. Examples of chronic illnesses and injuries in admin positions are high blood pressure, heart conditions, diabetes, digestive disorders, headaches, and repetitive motion injuries such as tennis elbow and carpal tunnel (if you think those problems are not serious, ask anyone who tries to qualify at the range with numb hands and grip loss).
Every Workers' Compensation attorney who represents police clients has anecdotal information about calls from potential clients with often serious illnesses that are clearly work-related, but they don't want to "make waves." We also often hear back from these same people after it is too late to do anything about the claim, which, unless addressed in a timely manner, may fall by the wayside because of a statute of limitations. Employers have the right to assert a statute of limitations defense where they can prove that the officer had knowledge of a work-related illness or injury and they did not file a claim within a year of that knowledge. While there are exceptions related to statutory presumptions, they are complicated, and, it is dangerous to put off filing in most situations.
Especially with those at the rank of sergeant and above, there is extreme resistance to filing because of the misperception that a claim of injury or illness is equivalent to inability to handle the stresses of that job. Don't forget, there is a reason why the heart, the lower back, hernia, cancer and illnesses related to blood borne pathogens and biological agents are presumptive for many officers. Even if you don't wear a Sam Brown all the time, the presumption for lower back may still apply, and, even then, a fairly long history of police work is much more valuable than a presumption.
To make matters worse, to a great extent, this resistance to speaking up about illness and injury has been encouraged at the employer level through a user-hostile treatment and review process. Further, the perception is that by hiring a lawyer an adversarial relationship has been created. It is important to know that asserting your right to treat and to have time off to recover from a work-related illness or injury (or both) is a statutory right, and that right is understood by all employers whether they admit it or not.
There is no bonus for being a good sport, and employers readily take advantage of their compliant employees by asserting the statute of limitations defense at the time they finally assert their rights.
To a large degree, the culture of resistance in filing a claim for an industrial injury or illness is encouraged by employers who do what they can to keep costs down, even at the expense of an officer's health. Not all employers behave the same, but, for the most part, they do what they can to protect themselves, and you have to be proactive about knowing your rights and protecting your health when those issues arise.
The moral of the story is, don't be intimidated by myth, and do be persistent about getting the help that you need, whatever that treatment may be. If you are considering filing a Workers' Compensation claim, speak to a qualified attorney experienced in handling safety cases. Don't guess, and don't put off taking care of your health.