PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration is again trying to reform a system that has allowed a large number of sheriffs to remain out of work on injury leave for years, collecting their full pay tax-free.
And compared to last year’s effort, this year’s proposal is more aggressive.
Target 12 reported in November that 23 out of 179 Rhode Island sheriffs were on injured-on-duty (IOD) status after getting hurt on the job.
The number far outpaces other law-enforcement agencies across the state. Raimondo is proposing modifications to the policy in her 2019-20 budget plan that Department of Administration Director Michael DiBiase estimates would save taxpayers roughly $1.6 million a year.
“We think IOD should be a temporary program,” DiBiase said. “The reason why this issue is so important is it’s a cost to the taxpayers, but also we are understaffed in the sheriff’s department.”
DiBiase said the new proposal, like last year’s, would require that a sheriff who is out on IOD for 18 months seek retirement with an accidental disability pension at that point. And no matter what the state retirement board then decided, IOD pay would end: the sheriff would either have to return to work or be let go if the board denied the disability request.
- TARGET 12: Large number of sheriffs out on IOD
But unlike last year’s, this proposal would impact sheriffs who have been on IOD for a long time, some for more than nine years. Previously, any proposed changes came with protections for those who went out injured prior to 2011.
“We are going to apply this law to everyone on IOD so folks that have been on for several years are going to be given a short period of time to apply for their accidental disability benefits,” said DiBiase. “They will continue to receive IOD while they go through that process, but once that process is concluded with the retirement board the IOD benefits will end.”
Several sheriffs have already applied for a disability pension but were denied by the retirement board, but then continued to collect their IOD benefits. DiBiase said if the administration’s new proposal passes, those sheriffs will have 90 days to try again.
A call and email to Alexis Santoro of labor union Council 94 — which represents sheriffs — were not immediately returned.
Target 12’s investigation found that unlike other public-safety agencies, Rhode Island’s sheriffs have a unique two-tiered system that allows them to stay on IOD for years.
Of the 23 sheriffs who were on that status in the fall, seven had been on IOD for more than four years, with four on IOD for more than eight years. The longest had been on IOD for 11 years and nine months.
Employees on IOD collect their entire salary tax-free, while retirees receiving an accidental disability pension get two-thirds of their final salary tax-free.
A spokesperson for the R.I. State Police and the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the sheriffs, said the number of sheriffs on IOD has dropped to 20 since Target 12’s report aired.
According to court records, one sheriff lost his IOD benefits, while another went back to work and was placed on light duty.