2023 Finalist, Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting

MIA: Crisis in the Ranks

With Philadelphia suffering record levels of gun violence, Philadelphia Inquirer journalists Barbara Laker, David Gambacorta, and William Bender spent a year investigating police officers’ abuse of Pennsylvania’s generous “Heart and Lung” disability benefit. An astonishing number were deemed by union-selected doctors as unavailable to work – one in seven patrol officers, or 14%, far greater than the percentage of disabled police in other cities. The reporters learned that the police union wielded a little-known power to select the doctors who treated the injured cops – a major conflict of interest – and discovered that of the seven doctors selected for the program, five had a history of questionable behavior. The Inquirer investigation prompted an audit of the benefits program by the City Controller, internal investigations by the Police Commissioner, and the introduction of a bill by state lawmakers aimed at cracking down on fraud and abuse within the police disability program. The reporting team also cites that by year’s end, the number of officers out with injury claims dropped by 31%, and the number of injured officers cleared for court duty more than tripled. 

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