Congressmen studying the District of Columbia police and fire budget said yesterday that the number of men in these services who are retired on disability "boggles the mind," and they vowed to do something about it.
"I think it's an outrage, I really do." said Rep. Clair W. Burgener (R-Calif.) "It seems like the norm here is to retire on disability," said Rep. William H. Natcher. "The people who are being mistreated."
Burgener said he felt that "the trouble lies in the makeup of the city retirement) board." Natcher then Promised to call the seven members of that board to the Hill to explain their procedures.
The House District Appropriations Subcommittee spent almost all the hour it devoted to the police budget to quizzing Chief Burtell M. Jefferson on the rate of disability retirements and the practice of paying policemen overtime to repaint, panel with wood and scrub down offices of high-ranking officials.
Jefferson told the congressmen that the number of disability retirements is steadily decreasing - it was down to 52 percent of all retirees last year - but he acknowledged that overall "there is complete imbalance, I agree with you."
He also said he had ordered a halt to the use of overtime for maintenance and remodeling.
About 82 percent of the city's 3,300 retired policemen and firemen are retired on disability, a ratio far in excess f other major cities. Beyond crippling injuries, reasons for these retirements have included such complaints as a stiff trigger finger and hay fever. A disability pension is tax-free; a regular pension is not.
Fire Chief Jefferson Lewis, asked later about disability retirements among firemen, told the subcommittee that last year 27 of 40 firemen who retired did so on disability. "Certainly that's unfortunate, chief, you know I'm right," Natcher said.
The men who take regular retirements "must think they're suckers," zburgener said. He said the makeup of the Police and Firemen's Retirement and Relief Board, which makes decisions on the nature of retirements, "sounds likethe fox watching the henhouse."
That board, appointed by the mayor, is composed of a city policeman, a fireman, a physician, a lawyer, a personnel official and two citizens. Board members have said that because of court interpretations of the law, they must rely heavily on the opinions of Police and FIre Clinic doctors.
Asked who employs the doctors, Jefferson told Burgener that it was the D. C. Police Department. "Well, that's another in-house thing," Bergener said. "I think we got trouble."
Jefferson pointed out that the House passed in bill last year with some changes in the city's retirement system, and that the Senate currently is studying that bill and two of its own.
"What about this, Chief?" Natcher asked, referring to a recent Washington Post article about paying police overtime to do maintenance and remodeling work. "Has the hubbub died down so it won't be in the paper again?"
Jefferson said he believed it had. He pulled out a prepared statement, which he said he had drafted in response to the publicity, but said he had decided not to release it because "since the publicity has died down, I don't feel it's necessary."
The article said that the department had spent thousands of dollars paying officers and civillian employes overtime to remodel and clean the offices of high-ranking officials.
Jefferson told the subcommittee this practice "has been going on for a long time," and although it is "much cheaper" to pay police overtime rather than having another city agency fo the work, he has decided "to put a stop to it because of the publicity."
Jefferson's responses were his first in public about disability retirements and the use of overtime for police officer's.