JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - A rule change by the Arkansas Local Police and Fire Retirement System, or LOPFI, has some police and firefighters across the state breathing a sigh of relief.
"These officers are working under the assumption that if they're hurt while performing law enforcement action whether on-duty or off-duty, they're covered," Lt. Scott Baxter said.
Lt. Baxter, a LOPFI board member and officer with the Jonesboro Police Department, said until this week, that wasn't the case.
"We needed to get the word out about that," Lt. Baxter said. "I asked other board members to notify their member organizations and I did the same."
He explained that led to LOPFI Director David Clark drafting a rule change to provide guidelines for officers, firefighters, and their employers on what to do when a law enforcement official is injured while working in an off-duty capacity as an officer or firefighter.
"For as long as I've been an officer, for 27 years, I've known that officers work a side job to help make ends meet," Lt. Baxter said. "Most agencies allow that. Some have different rules and guidelines to do that."
However, when a Little Rock officer tried to obtain medical retirement from LOPFI in September, she was denied because of the circumstances surrounding her injury.
Little Rock TV Station KARK highlighted the story in November. Officer Megan Jones was working security at a Dillards in 2008 when she attempted to arrest a shoplifting suspect. A getaway driver then ran her over in the parking lot.
The injuries sustained eventually led to her inability to continue work as an officer.
"The way it fell and the way she was getting paid by statute, didn't fall under LOPFI," Lt. Baxter said. "It's something we need to get the word out and make sure it doesn't happen again."
The rule change enacted this week will help protect officers and firefighters working off-duty.
"That was the whole purpose of the rule," Lt. Baxter said. "If they are off duty and become involved in an incident where they have to act as a police officer or a firefighter, they go off the clock, if they're on the clock for somebody else, they go off the clock for them and on the clock for their agency."
Lt. Baxter said an agency will have to determine that the person was working in their capacity as an officer or firefighter to avoid false claims, but if the claim is legitimate, Lt. Baxter said the department will have to compensate them like they would if the person had been on-duty.
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