North Chicago, IL – Three former North Chicago police officers who retired on disability after being injured in the line of duty will possibly have their pensions revoked for failing to comply with the city’s order to return to work for the department’s 911 center.
North Chicago city leaders invoked a rarely-used state law to order a total of nine retired, disabled officers back to work in May of 2019, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Use of the law is so infrequent, it is unclear whether it has ever been utilized in the past.
Retired North Chicago Police Department (NCPD) Officer Brian Carder said that in May of 2019, he and fellow retired officers received “emergency recall” letters ordering them to attend training for 911 dispatcher positions, WBBM reported at the time.
The letter informed the retired officers that the department’s 911 center is “dramatically understaffed” due, in part, to an anticipated department consolidation.
As a result, employees had left agency to accept long-term opportunities with other departments.
But Officer Carder said that he and many of his fellow pensioners were unable to return to work. Some had even moved out-of-state since leaving the NCPD.
When a majority of the retired officers failed to show up for the dispatcher orientation, the city filed a motion to revoke their pensions, WBBM reported.
The city said in a statement that pursuing the pension revocations was necessary because it “would be entirely unfair to the pensioners who upheld their responsibilities under the Pension Code if the pensioners who ignored their recall notices faced no consequences for their actions,” according to the Chicago Tribune.
But at least three of the retired, disabled officers argued that failing to have adequate staffing for the dispatch center – which has since been closed – does not qualify as an emergency.
Even if it had, they said their medical issues should have made them except from the recall.
Officer Carder said he was hit by a vehicle in the line of duty on two occasions during his 17 years of service with NCPD, according to his 2019 interview with WBBM.
He suffered a broken clavicle, a broken hand, and “a couple concussions,” during those incidents, and subsequently underwent two hip replacements, he told the news outlet.
In 2009, Officer Carder was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and retired with a line-of-duty disability pension and health benefits.
Those are now his only sources of income, he said.
Retired NCPD Officer Emir King said he currently lives 1,400 miles away from the city he spent more than a decade serving, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“This is the city that I got hurt protecting, mind you. I understand they have to run the city, but…even if I wanted to go back, I’m still disabled. I’m still 1,400 miles away. What do you expect me to do?” the frustrated retired officer asked.
Officer King retired from the force in April of 2016 after 11 years of service, the Chicago Tribune reported.
In recent months, he was quarantined after being exposed to someone who contracted the novel coronavirus.
Soon thereafter, he underwent emergency surgery to remove a cyst on or near his brain, he told the Chicago Tribune.
Officer King subsequently wound up contracting pneumonia and COVID-19, he said.
NCPD Officer Lawrence Wade served the police department for 24 years before he suffered a career-ending knee injury while trying to arrest a suspect, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Officer Wade said he suffers from high blood pressure and asthma, and that he was concerned about the risks of potentially being exposed to COVID-19 if he would have complied with the NCPD’s demands to return to work.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” Officer Wade told the Chicago Tribune. “Since the pandemic, I told them my conditions. I don’t have a spouse. I’m out here alone, an entity of one. If they take my money, I’m indigent and probably homeless. It’s very stressful.”
Retired NCPD Officer Trent Robinson served the department for 18 years before he was injured in the line of duty in 2004, the Chicago Tribune reported.
After his retirement, Officer Robinson lost an eye while playing basketball in 2017. He was also diagnosed with PTSD, he said.
Officer Robinson, who is diabetic, told the city he was also worried about the potential risks associated with contracting COVID-19.
He also no longer lives in the state of Illinois.
North Chicago City Attorney Ben Gehrt said the retired officers’ concerns about the coronavirus were unwarranted because the city had sprayed an antiviral fog inside the 911 center, according to the Chicago Tribune.
The city also refused to compensate the recalled officers beyond their normal pensions for working any shifts, and said they would not reimburse travel or living expenses for anyone living out of the area who complied with the order to return to work, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Gehrt said the city was “not responsible” for the pensioners’ “personal choice to live out of state and so would not provide any reimbursement for the costs related to traveling back to North Chicago or housing while there,” according to the paper.
Gehrt said that the city was completely within its power to recall the nine retired, disabled officers, the Chicago Tribune reported.
One of the officers was excused immediately, Gehrt said.
When the other eight failed to show up for dispatch training, the city filed paperwork with the pension board in an effort to have their benefits revoked.
Two of the retired officers have since complied with the recall directive and showed up to work two shifts apiece, North Chicago Chief of Staff Deb Waszak told the Chicago Tribune.
The city later excused three more retired officers, according to Gehrt.
The remaining three pensioners are at the mercy of the pension board, which is on hiatus because of the coronavirus, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Officer Wade said that the city is “wrong” for treating him and his fellow retired officers the way they have.
“I feel that I’m being picked upon because the city is in a financial crisis,” the retired officer said. “I don’t appreciate them picking on guys that served the city for years. I served the city, I was injured…I just don’t understand it.”
Waszak said that the city has been “totally disrupted” by budget and staffing shortages, the Chicago Tribune reported.
“We were trying to find the best option and, at the time, it seemed like this was the best option,” she said of the emergency recall order.