If Alaska had a dollar for every time a legislator called an Alaska State Trooper or local police officer a hero, we could have another Permanent Fund. If legislators really believe law enforcement officers and their families are heroes, they should provide major medical insurance to survivors of officers killed in the line of duty.
A hero is defined as a person who is admired for brave and great acts. When a police officer is killed in the line of duty protecting us from danger, we rightfully honor them for bravely defending our public safety. Our police heroes, in keeping us from danger and dying doing so, made the ultimate sacrifice to protect all of us.
Every year, during this week, our country recognizes the fallen heroes of law enforcement during National Police Week. Last year, 123 police officers were killed in the line of duty. These brave individuals, and their families, will be recognized by President Barack Obama at a candle light ceremony at the National Police Memorial in Washington, D.C.
It is an American value to recognize the public service of those who protect us from danger. We value our military heroes killed in the line of duty protecting us from danger. Rather than discard the families of our military heroes killed in the line of duty, we provide them with special services in recognition of their sacrifices. That’s why we provide survivors and children of soldiers killed in the line of duty major medical coverage through TRICARE.
Why should Alaska value its law enforcement heroes any differently? Through their service, these officers protect us from danger and make us safe. The spouses and children of police officers killed in the line of duty, like our soldiers’ families, should be provided major medical insurance for the sacrifice that made to protect us.
Two years ago, Alaska State Troopers Scott Johnson and Gabe Rich were murdered in Tanana. They each left spouses and young children. Almost immediately, their survivors lost the medical insurance they had the day the officers died in the line of duty. Three years ago, Trooper Tage Toll died in a helicopter accident rescuing a stranded snowmachiner. Toll left behind a wife and three young children. The day after Toll’s death, and before his body had even been identified, Toll’s wife learned from his supervisor that her health insurance would end that day.
Treating our heroes’ families, during the worst loss imaginable, this way is inconceivable. It is deplorable, wrong and not the way we should value heroes who died protecting us, or their grieving families. We can do better, and we must fix this problem.
Shortly after the tragic deaths of Troopers Toll, Johnson and Rich, Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, introduced HB 66 as a legislative fix. Since its introduction, HB 66 evolved because of study, discussions, meetings and research into how other states provide this benefit. HB 66 is now a cost effective way to provide medical coverage for survivors of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty.
The public supports this bill. The governor supports this bill. And an overwhelming majority of legislators, both Democrats and Republicans, support this bill. The Labor and Commerce Committee, however, refused to hold a single hearing on the bill this year.
Scott Johnson, Gabe Rich and Tage Toll were brave and never refused to do their job. They protected us and died doing so. We shouldn’t discard these heroes’ families, or the families of any future police officer killed in the line of duty.
The time of legislative lip service is long over. If Alaska’s legislators really honor police, then they need to schedule this legislation for hearing, pass it and send it to the governor for signature before the end of session.
During National Police Week, join me in honoring our fallen heroes by calling legislators and telling them to pass the line of duty death benefit.
• Jake Metcalfe is the executive director of Public Safety Employees Association, Local 803.