POLICE Social and Welfare Association (PSWA) head Gideon Dickson said the pandemic has put police officers at a heightened risk compared to others, so they deserve $1 million in compensation if they die of the virus.
The $1 million award was set up for officers killed in the line of duty, but the PWSA has urged it should also be given to the families of those who died of the virus.
Speaking to Newsday on Thursday, Dickson said that on May 21 he spoke to Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds, who promised to consult his technocrats and return to him.
"You would have seen that we, the police, have been singularly impacted. Most infected were active on duty in the defence of one's country."
Dickson told Newsday to date 31 police officers have died of covid19.
At present 223 officers are known to have the virus.
Over the past two years, some 4,824 officers have tested positive, been quarantined and then resumed work, he said, along with 153 civilian staff.
The website of the police service (TTPS) lists the manpower as 6,500 people, including full-time and SRP officers.
This means those who have contracted covid19 in two years add up to three quarters of the service, although some of them may have had the virus more than once.
Newsday asked if so many officers in all protective services, including the police, might die from covid19 that the country simply could not afford to pay $1 million compensation for each death.
Dickson replied, "From the protective services standpoint, we are not the average civilian who works a normal Monday-Friday. In the interest of the people of TT, we work long, arduous hours. We place our lives at risk to protect others.
"Inherently, in our job, if you die in the line of duty, you are entitled to $1 million, so it is that technicality, to determine whether in a pandemic, if you die, you might be deserving of it. That's the part the minister will get back to us on."
Newsday asked if a floodgates of claims across all protective services (plus, say, estate police) could bankrupt the scheme.
Dickson replied, "You cannot put money on the value of a life."
He said the State must stand liability.
Dickson said more police officers had died from covid19 than in all the other services combined.
"We are not operating in a confined space, but must engage the public more than anybody else. We have to engage the incarcerated. We have to engage those who we are interrogating, making inquiries of, those who we are arresting, those who we have to give a certificate of character, those who we have to take to prison, to the cells and to the court.
"None of the other entities are operating like that."
With a $1 million award for being killed on the job, Newsday asked if the police should get it for dying within a pandemic which posed the same virus risk to everyone else.
Dickson said, "Everybody else who you are referring to, when the country was locked down for intervals, everybody benefited from that. They got the opportunity to work from home and flexi-shift and special consideration for pandemic leave. Everybody else benefited from that, but the essential services, especially the police, never benefited.
"As a matter of fact, our leave has been restricted since December 2019. So we have been going full throttle. To add to that, when the talk of furlough came up, when the Prime Minister said public servants would be given the opportunity to stay home from December 24-January 3, that did not apply to the protective services, that did not apply to the police. We had to work still."
Asked about police well-being against covid19, he said officers can now be medically assessed ahead of vaccination, which may help overcome vaccine hesitancy.
"We'd want to call on the Government to provide some testing kits for our police hospital, so officers don't have to line up in the health centre."
Dickson said police officers also need N95 masks.
"We needs masks. We are trying to procure masks presently."
He said the PSWA retains its pro-choice stance on vaccination, as some people may variously trust in religion, science or their own immune system.