The D.C. Council has passed a bill that supporters say will reduce the high number of city police officers who perform light-duty tasks for long periods because they suffer from injuries or stress.
Council member Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) said she sponsored the bill to address a long-standing problem: well-paid and highly trained officers who work almost indefinitely behind desks because they are too sick or injured to hit the streets.
Patterson's bill allows the department to forcibly retire officers who, because of a single injury or illness, miss all or part of 172 workdays during any two-year period.
Not every such officer would be automatically forced to retire, however. If doctors believe injured officers can eventually return to full duties, police officials can instead place the officers on extended medical leave.
The council unanimously passed the measure on June 2. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) is expected to sign the legislation in coming days, city officials said.
"That is one of the big pluses here: requiring that officers get back to active duty," said Patterson, who is chairwoman of the council's Judiciary Committee. "We can hire someone to do clerical work a lot cheaper than a police officer."
About 330 officers, or about 9 percent of the District's 3,700-member force, cannot perform regular duties because of sickness, injuries or stress, according to police statistics for the month of February, the latest available.
That is enough officers to staff one of the city's seven police districts.
The bill also requires that the police department process claims of injuries suffered in the performance of duty within 30 days. Police officers have long complained that the department took too long to examine their injury claims. By speeding up the process, Patterson said, the department should be able to get officers back on the streets much faster.
Tony Bullock, a spokesman for Williams, said the measure is "really just common sense," adding, "People with sworn officers' status should be out there doing police work. We don't need file clerks with side arms."
D.C. Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey declined to comment on the bill because he said he had not yet read it. But, he added, he generally supports the provision aimed at getting officers back on the street. Police officials have long said they needed legislation to give them stronger legal grounds in retiring injured officers.
Union officials also backed the bill.
"We think it's fair," said Sgt. G.G. Neill, secretary for the D.C. Police Labor Committee in the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1.
The number of officers unable to perform regular duties has increased since Ramsey was named chief in 1998. In December of that year, 224 officers were unavailable for duty. Two years later, the number jumped to 305. By November, the number had swelled to 384. In February, according to police statistics, the number was 332.
The percentage of officers unable to do their regular jobs in the District is far higher than in neighboring jurisdictions or in some large cities, such as New York or Chicago, according to a survey by The Post early this year.
Patterson's measure also contains other provisions, including:
* Prohibiting the police or fire departments from promoting someone to the command staff if he or she has a pending disciplinary action, has been fired or has served a suspension of 15 days or greater within three years of the promotion.
* Requiring the police and fire departments to complete internal affairs investigations within 90 days.
* Ordering the police and fire departments to conduct physical fitness tests every two years.
* Lifting a requirement that District police officers and firefighters live within 25 miles of the city's limits. Patterson said that police and firefighters are the only District employees who face such a requirement. That provision had been on the books as a way to ensure that public safety employees could quickly respond to emergencies. The provision is outdated, Patterson said.