It is not only the law, but a moral obligation, for municipalities to care for police and firefighters who are injured on duty. These men and women put their own safety at risk to protect that of thousands of their fellow citizens. When they are injured in carrying out those tasks, they need to know their health care is in good hands and their incomes are secure.
But the reverse is also true. It is a moral and legal imperative for police and fire personnel to treat fairly their supervisors and the taxpayers who fund these important benefits. As the system has been configured in Buffalo, that has not always been the case. A change that should be helpful is in the works. It is certainly worth trying -- or, more accurately, trying again.
Several years ago, City Hall took over the monitoring of injured-on-duty cases from the police and fire departments, themselves. After that, the number of injured officers steadily increased, perhaps because it was easier for those so inclined to scam the system. Now, oversight of those cases is being placed with the commissioners of the two departments, with the expectation that officials closer to the injured workers can do a better job of preventing abuses and more quickly shepherding those who are injured back to duty.
This is an urgent matter for any city, particularly one as poor as Buffalo. Last year, injured-on-duty cases cost taxpayers nearly $10 million and this year's price is expected to top $10 million. With money like that on the table, the city needs to be sure that only those who are truly injured are using the system. Preventing abuse protects not only the taxpayers who fund the system, but the police officers and firefighters who really have been injured on duty and need attention.
These officers work in jobs that can be dangerous. Buffalo residents have seen proof of that in recent years, as police officers have been shot and firefighters killed on duty. Those who depend upon the services of these city employees are obliged to tend to them when injuries occur. Most of those reported instances are, no doubt, legitimate. With this change, City Hall should be able to ensure that all of them are.