Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Police struggle to cope with Sandy Hook trauma

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HARTFORD, Conn. -- Some of the police officers who responded to the shooting in Newtown are so traumatized they haven't been working, but they have to use sick time and could soon be going without a paycheque, a union official said Wednesday.

The union, Council 15 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, is seeking assistance in talks with the town's insurer. It is also reaching out to lawmakers and the governor's office with proposals to modify state law and expand workers' compensation benefits for officers who witness horrific crime scenes.

"The insurer for the town has taken a position that these officers are entitled to only what the statute allows. Unfortunately for these officers, the statute doesn't allow any benefits," said Eric Brown, an attorney for the union, which represents nearly 4,000 officers around Connecticut.

A gunman shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 and slaughtered 20 first-graders and six educators. The gunman, who had also killed his mother that morning, committed suicide as police arrived.

Brown said the number of officers "critically affected" by the tragedy is below 15 and that a small number of them are not currently working.

A spokesman for Newtown police, Lt. George Sinko, said the officers are generally holding up well.

"A couple of them are taking it harder than some of the other ones," he said. "The things that the officers had to experience underscores the need to support them in every way possible."

Officials with the town's insurer, the Connecticut Interlocal Risk Management Agency, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Authorities say the victims were shot with a high-powered, military-style rifle loaded with ammunition designed to inflict maximum damage. All the victims had been shot at least twice, the medical examiner said, and as many as 11 times. Two victims were pronounced dead at a hospital and all others died in the school.

In the past, advocates have pushed to change the statutes on workers' compensation, which currently include provisions for officers who suffer impairment as a result of using or being subjected to deadly force -- but not for those who witness mass casualties.

Concerns about the potential cost to cities and towns have been an obstacle, but the issue is likely to resurface in the next legislative session, said state Rep. Stephen Dargan, a West Haven Democrat who is co-chairman of the legislature's public safety committee.

"We don't want it to be used in an abusive way, but the circumstances are so horrific in Newtown. We need to protect those first responders and give them all the help we can give them," he said.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 27, 2012 A11

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