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City looks for reasons behind high officer injury rate
Copyright 2007 The Buffalo News
One in seven Buffalo police officers was off-duty because of work-related injuries last month, and police brass warn the problem is getting worse.
Mayor Byron W. Brown demanded some answers Friday, and the city's second-in-command told the Human Resources Department big changes might be made in the way Buffalo handles injured-on-duty claims.
"Maybe we should take it away from you and put it back in the Police Department," First Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey snapped at human resources officials in reference to monitoring the injured-on-duty process.
But human resources managers disputed assertions that the problem has intensified since their department took control of the claims process in 2003 and started working with a private consultant to manage cases. Up until then, the Police Department had its own compliance nurse.
Deputy Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda said that, under the old system, there typically were fewer than 70 officers out on injuries on a police force that exceeded 900 -- or less than 8 percent of the work force. In the most recent pay period, there were 112 officers out due to injuries on a force of about 740 -- or 15 percent.
"Something's not right here. Plain and simple, the numbers keep going up," Derenda said.
Benefits Manager Tracy Healy-Barker told CitiStat, Buffalo's accountability panel, she "would beg to differ" with police officials' contention that the injured-on-duty problem is worsening. For one thing, administrators said it can be misleading to look only at the number of officers out at any given time. They said the length of time newly injured officers are off duty has been shrinking.
Other problems involve the way injuries were tracked in earlier years, a process that some say could have produced inaccurate counts.
Officials declined to speculate on what might be driving up work-related injuries until a city task force called for by Brown can dissect the numbers. But some factors that have been cited in the past include the need for additional training and processing problems at the state level. Others have speculated that a labor dispute over a control board-imposed wage freeze might be affecting the numbers.
New crime statistics also were released at Friday's CitiStat meeting.
Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson said Buffalo logged fewer homicides in the first four months of the year than in any similar period since at least 2001. There were 15 homicides in the city between January and the end of April, down nearly 16 percent from the six-year average. Meanwhile, Derenda said violent crime in general also has fallen in the past seven months.
Gipson issued a warning to criminals.
"We're coming. We'll be there," he said.
© 2001-2011 City of Buffalo
Photos by Angel Art LTP, compliments of the Greater Buffalo Convention and Visitors Bureau. Additional photos by Adrian Roselli, compliments of Algonquin Studios