The 5-4 vote was narrow, but Fort Worth City Council members clearly showed a lot of sympathy Tuesday night when they approved extending leave-of-absence pay for an officer who was paralyzed after being shot in 2003.
Each year since 2004, the council has voted to extend the pay for Officer Lisa Ramsey, who is assigned to light duty. But the city staff this year had recommended denying extended benefits to Ramsey and Officer Richard Lambing, who was injured when his vehicle crashed during a high-speed chase.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday not to extend the benefits for Lambing, but he will receive disability retirement. He lost his hearing as a result of the accident and requires a walker or wheelchair to be mobile.
Councilman Jungus Jordan, who made the motion to allow Ramsey to continue her duties and her pay until she reaches retirement in three years, said the difference is that Lambing is not able to work and Ramsey is.
While that distinction adds some clarity for the police chief in deciding which injured officer can be assigned to duties in the department and receive extended leave pay, it does not help with the definition of “ability to work,” which the chief and city staff had maintained includes being able to make a “forcible arrest.”
The council clearly was showing mercy for Ramsey, and that no doubt is a good thing for her. But mercy does not fit into a standard policy that can be a guide for the future, especially considering there are 45 other people in the department suffering from on-the-job injuries — 20 of whom have gone back on limited duty and 25 not allowed by their doctors to work.
Going forward, the department must have clear guidelines in place to deal with the issue of extended leave pay, both for budget purposes and to ensure adequate staffing of sworn officers who meet the full requirements of the job.
Police Chief Jeff Halstead told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board Wednesday that a “small subcommittee” will be assembled to develop a comprehensive policy that can be presented to the council, preferably by the end of this year.
Turning the council’s intent into a guideline will be difficult, but a clear policy is overdue.