Tuesday, March 20, 2018

County pension plan updated to pay if an officer is killed on duty

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2018 at 2:39 PM

click to enlarge Detective Micah Flick was killed Feb. 5. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
  • Detective Micah Flick was killed Feb. 5.
On March 19, the El Paso County Retirement Plan board approved a change in benefits stemming from the shooting death of Sheriff's Detective Micah Flick.

Now, if a vested member is killed in the line of duty as the result of a "criminal or wrongful activity of a third party," there are these options:

1) The member will be deemed to have retired on the first day of the month in which the member died, and a 100 percent payout will be made that shall not be less than 25 percent of the deceased member's final average monthly compensation if that member had at least 10 years of service. Payment will be made to the designated beneficiary.

2) The member's benefit will be paid out starting on the member's normal retirement date or the date the member would have become eligible for special early retirement. The amount of the payments will be calculated using the greater of his or her final average monthly compensation or the final compensation computed using the member's current monthly pay at the date of death, indexed at a rate of 3 percent per year to project the member's monthly compensation through their retirement date.

3) A single lump sum payable in annual installments for up to four years that's equal to two times the member's contributions as of the date of death and two times the additional contributions that would have been made by the member through the earliest retirement date, assuming an increase in pay of 3 percent per year.

The change, the pension board decided, became effective Jan. 1, 2018, meaning Flick's family is eligible for benefits.

———————ORIGINAL POST 4:43 P.M. WEDNESDAY, FEB. 14, 2018———————-

This blog has been updated from the original, posted at 4:43 p.m. on Feb. 14, to reflect the latest information about benefits available to Deputy Micah Flick's family.

The grieving family of fallen El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputy Micah Flick will need more then a shoulder to cry on in the coming years. With a breadwinner gone, Flick’s wife and 7-year-old twins will need money. But some government programs are more generous than others with the survivors of fallen officers.

Let’s start with the El Paso County Retirement Plan. Its death benefit — a relative pittance at $3,000 — is only paid to survivors of retirees. In addition, the plan doesn’t pay pension benefits to survivors until the beneficiary’s 55th birthday at the earliest (regardless of whether the beneficiary is alive), which means Flick’s family has to wait 21 years to collect monthly benefits. Notably, nothing in the plan’s rules makes a special consideration, or even a mention, of those killed on the job.

Flick was shot and killed on Feb. 5 while trying to tackle a suspected vehicle thief in a parking lot at Murray Boulevard and Galley Road as other officers closed in. Flick, 34, had been with the Sheriff’s Office for 11 years.

Asked why fallen officers couldn’t receive benefits, the retirement plan board’s chair, County Treasurer Mark Lowderman, says the issue hasn’t come up. The last sheriff’s deputy to die in the line of duty was Hugh Martin, who was killed by a gunshot in the chest in April 1992 during a raid on the home of a drug dealer.

But Lowderman says the board will discuss amending the rules for its plan, which covers employees of the county, El Paso County Public Health, the Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office and the Pikes Peak Library District, at its Feb. 26 meeting. “It’s a conversation we need to have,” Lowderman says, noting the death benefit amount has remained unchanged for at least 23 years.

“It’s sad that it takes a tragedy like that (Flick’s death) to spur the conversation, but it’s not something you think about in day-to-day business,” he says. “It would be my hope if that’s the way the board wants to go, we could certainly do something retroactive and include Deputy Flick’s family.”

click to enlarge A sheriff's cruiser was parked in front of the Sheriff's Office in honor of Flick. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • A sheriff's cruiser was parked in front of the Sheriff's Office in honor of Flick.
Under existing policies, Flick's family will be paid $40,000 under a life insurance policy carried on all county employees, and another $40,000 because his death was accidental, county officials say.

(Survivors of a Colorado Springs Police Officer killed on the job would receive 70 percent of the officer’s base pay through the Fire and Police Pension Association, as well as tuition and room and board for an officer’s dependents to obtain a bachelor’s degree at a state school.)

The Flick family also will likely get help from another government program. Workers’ Compensation, compulsory in Colorado, generally pays a benefit of 66 2/3 percent of the deceased employee’s average weekly wages to beneficiaries. The spouse receives benefits for life, unless she remarries, in which case a two-year lump sum is payable upon remarriage. Children also receive some compensation until age 18, or beyond age 18 if physically or mentally disabled, or until age 21 if full-time students. Burial expenses of up to $7,000 also are paid by Workers’ Compensation.

The Flicks are also likely eligible for a federal program that pays survivors of fallen law enforcement officers and other first responders killed in the line of duty a one-time benefit of $350,079. The Department of Justice’s Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program provides death and education benefits to survivors, as well as disability benefits to officers catastrophically injured in the line of duty.

The program dates to 1976 when Congress enacted the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Act to ease economic burdens of families who lost an officer in the line of duty. The act has since been amended to cover rescue squads, ambulance crews, firefighters and chaplains. The payment, which is adjusted for inflation annually, is not subject to federal tax.

In 2012, the House Committee on the Judiciary reaffirmed the act’s purpose, noting families of fallen public safety workers “would potentially face financial disaster because of the death or incapacitation of the public safety officer,” according to the Federal Register.

As of February 2016, there were 761 initial claims for benefits pending at the PSOB office, 123 appeals of PSOB Office determinations pending a hearing, and 47 appeals of Hearing Officer determinations pending with the Bureau of Justice Assistance director. That year, the benefit was $339,881 and the program budgeted $71.3 million for death benefits.

But the Federal Register notes that an audit by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General found the program processed only 56 percent of claims within one year of filing, and an independent review in late 2015 found that significant changes were needed to deal with a growing backlog of claims.

PSOB spokesperson Greg Robinson tells the Independent the average time to process a claim is about a year. “The most important thing is to make sure you apply,” Robinson says, adding the death or disability has to have taken place in the line of duty or within 24 hours of duty or driving home from work.

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