Reader poll: 92% say LEOs should get hazard pay during the COVID-19 crisis
As COVID-19 strengthens its grip on the United States, there’s been increasing talk among lawmakers, unions and officers of boosting compensation for LEOs
This information comes from a recent Police1 poll. Polls are updated on the P1 homepage each month and open to all P1 readers. Make your voice heard HERE in our latest poll.
As COVID-19 strengthens its grip on the United States, there’s been increasing talk among lawmakers, unions and officers of boosting compensation for LEOs and other workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. Some cities are ahead of the game, having already implemented some form of hazard pay.
Nearly 6,000 readers responded to the poll, and the majority (92%) believe that officers should receive it. The comment sections on Police1 and social media revealed the nuances of that sentiment. While most of our readers were in favor of some sort of compensation, they had differing opinions on what that compensation should look like.
Some suggested tax breaks for the entire year instead of a stipend. Others said hazard pay should only be given to cops working the streets, not those behind a desk. One of the most popular ideas was tax-free pay for the months officers are working during the COVID-19 emergency, similar to combat pay in the military.
“It is war. Combat pay enhancement,” Jon A Hartz Sr. wrote.
This idea isn’t just being discussed among our readers. At least one lawmaker, Rep. Bill Huizenga, wants to see a federal tax holiday for cops and other first responders modeled after what members of the military get while they’re in combat zones.
"If we’re viewing this as sort of a war-like footing, then let’s try to treat it that way," Huizenga told The Detroit News.
How to define hazardous duty
Reader Paul Zuzzio grappled with how one defines a ‘hazard’ in law enforcement:
“What constitutes ‘hazard pay’ when your job is by definition hazardous normally?
Military gets hazard pay for certain job classifications with increased risk (airborne, etc.) or when actively deployed to a combat zone. But certain LEO/EMS/medical positions and localities are always hazardous, though the pay scales should already reflect that across the board.
So, who decides what positions or shift assignments constitute increased hazardous duty, and what should the pay scales or differentials reflect to account for that, and at what level should it be decided?”
Is the COVID-19 outbreak an unusual circumstance above and beyond the normal threats of the job? Some say yes.
“Our local FOP tried to get it, we got hit with the ‘hazard pay is already part of your salary’ line from the brass,” PhillyBlue85 said. “I already accept that I may have to make the ultimate sacrifice during the performance of my duty, but my family shouldn't be a part of that sacrifice.”
“Hazard pay should be granted. Our families can be affected. This additional pay can be in support of our families with additional safety equipment and supplies,” Omiles wrote.
Many of our readers were against hazard pay entirely – arguing that the inherently dangerous nature of the work meant cops knew what they were signing up for before they joined the profession, even if the likelihood of facing this particular threat seemed minute just months ago.
“I don't think we should be getting ‘hazard’ pay just because there is a new threat to us while performing our jobs,” NH-SHERIFF3 wrote. “There is always a threat to us. Being shot, run over, fights, drugs, chemicals, fire, animals, other diseases, people mad at me and coming to my house, etc. This is just another one to tag onto the endless list of threats. I signed up for this job knowing any of this could happen to me and that I could possibly bring some of it home. Why is this one more dangerous than any of the others? There are times in one’s career that you are called upon to perform your job when most other people would refuse. Those are the times when we find out who really got into their line of work for the right reasons.”
Others added that they were grateful to have a paycheck at all while so many other Americans had lost their jobs.
“I would like to still have my job after all of this is done,” topgun330 wrote. “If we drain the coffers so badly by being greedy, we may just end up turning this economy that has the ability to bounce back from this into something that cannot bounce back from this. No thanks.”
Some of our readers who agreed that the job was hazardous to begin with still grappled with the danger that COVID-19 presents to their loved ones.
“I've gone to work like we all have with an assumed risk to our personal safety. But now that the risk includes our families, I'm terrified that I may bring something home to my wife or our kids. It's the only time in my 20-year career I'm not excited to go to work. But I'll still be there for my shifts,” tbpd13 said.
Concerned about PPE, medical care
Many readers just wanted their agencies to supply PPE and prioritize COVID-19 testing for cops, as first responders grapple with a widespread shortage of critical supplies.
“I disagree with hazardous duty pay. Though the sentiment is nice, the money could be used to equip all officers with needed PPE. Risk is part of the job, but equip the officers to mitigate it,” Vince Mallas wrote.
“While we are at it, police and medical first responders should be the first tested and retested every now and then,” Richard L. Wilson said.
Other readers were worried about the potential medical costs associated with the virus. What’s covered? What should be covered? What about death benefits? We’re already seeing the battle over medical costs play out in places like Los Angeles County, and it’s going to become an increasingly urgent issue as the country gets deeper into the pandemic.
“I'll be honest here, I just want it to be considered a duty injury if/when I get it,” Joe Szczepanski wrote. “Working is a huge health risk. If I get shot, it’s covered. If I get this, I'm taking my sick days and I'm on my own for my medical expenses? Unacceptable.”
“How about instead of paying me hazard pay, you put this virus and others we are exposed to on our worker’s compensation list to allow us to get treatment and future medical care, and be a presumptive cause for a potential medical retirement if one of these viruses affects me to the point I can no longer work,” Jason Jones said.
What’s your take on this issue? Share your thoughts in the comments and read the following articles to keep yourself and your family safe during this unprecedented crisis: