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Published: Friday, 2/23/2007

Ohio provides safety net for a fallen officer's loved ones

BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - When a police officer is killed on duty, Ohio's pension and workers' compensation systems unite with taxpayers to provide a safety net for the families they leave behind.

Under state law, the General Assembly appropriates tax-free funds to guarantee an officer's base salary for the surviving spouse and dependent children through the Ohio Public Safety Officer's Death Fund Benefit, created in 1976.

The Bureau of Workers' Compensation provides benefits on top of that equal to two-thirds of the officer's salary, up to $700 a month, and the Ohio Police and Fire Pension Fund provides $410 monthly supplement.

"Whenever something like this happens, we connect with the employer right away," said BWC spokesman Keary McCarthy. "We're very sensitive not to cause undue stress on the family for paperwork."

The immediate contact, he said, is designed to help with burial benefits, up to $5,500, or other costs such as body transport or medical expenses that may be related to a death.

To help sustain a deceased officer's family over the long term until his earliest retirement age after 25 years on the force, the legislatively enacted Death Benefit Fund, administered through the pension fund, continues an officer's base pay, including any future contract pay increases that would go with the job.

Dependent children would be covered until they reach the age of 18 or complete college and, under Ohio law, they could attend a public college or university for four years tuition-free.

In the case of Toledo police vice Detective Keith Dressel, the family would receive the full benefits, but how those benefits would be distributed among family members is unknown because one of the children involved is a stepchild, according to Dave Graham, spokesman for the pension fund. The stepchild's legal status with Mr. Dressel could be a factor in whether that child shares in the benefits through college.

The family would be eligible for the same medical benefits available to any retiree through the pension fund.

At the point that the death- fund benefits convert to a pension when Mr. Dressel would have been eligible for retirement, the amount of benefits could decrease based on normal pension calculations. But the amount of the pension fund's separate monthly supplement would climb to as much as $661 in today's dollars plus cost-of-living adjustments.

The BWC would also provide an additional tax-free death wage benefit equal to two-thirds of the weekly average of Detective Dressel's earnings, including overtime, over the prior year of employment, up to a maximum of $700 a week. Mrs. Dressel could receive this indefinitely if she never remarries. It would end after two years if she does.

The children, however, could receive benefits until they turn 18 or complete college.

In addition to state benefits, under the federal Public Safety Officers' Benefits Act of 1976, Detective Dressel's family is eligible for a tax-free payment of $295,194, according to the Department of Justice.



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