As a matter of practice, policy and procedure, the vast majority of law enforcement agencies provide for certain employment benefits for all sworn personnel, to include among them a special death benefit status known as a Line of Duty Death. This status occurs when the injuries which caused the officers demise were incurred from actions they took while providing law enforcement services to the community they serve. Being designated as a line of duty death also typically provides the surviving family with greater healthcare and death benefits.
Under the normal connotation of this status, these officers have died due to being shot, stabbed, run over by vehicles, or suffering death-related injuries in struggles with suspects. Yet there is now another cause for deaths of law enforcement first responders that should, and must, be considered as a line-of-duty related death: that cause is the death of a law enforcement first responder due to contracting the novel coronavirus.
To date, law enforcement and correctional officer first responders in Illinois, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Florida and California have died after contracting this deadly disease. And officers in at least eight states are known to have tested positive for the virus. It must be accepted and understood that they more than likely contracted this disease while conducting their duty-related services of responding to calls for service in their communities, or serving in prison environments, bringing them into close physical contact with persons who were either carriers of the virus or who had otherwise been exposed to the virus. In other words, they were most likely infected with the virus that took their lives while performing their duties as first responders.
Law enforcement and correctional officers do not have the privilege of being able to “stay at home” or telecommute for their job. Ours is, unfortunately, a true “feely-touchy, in your face” type of occupation. We must actually be in direct contact and confrontation with people in order to do our job. Yes, it is one that we have gladly espoused for one reason or another, always recognizing that it is a dangerous occupation.
We urge all law enforcement and corrections agencies, whether they be municipal, county, state, or federal, to recognize the men and women who serve and are now dying from this disease as the true heroes that they are, and bestow upon them full line of duty death benefits. We as well demand that they make every effort to insure that these officers have access to the resources and equipment necessary to protect them from incurring this death-dealing disease.
Charles P. Wilson
National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, Inc.