The City of Chicago paid $18 million last year to police officers on disability, including some who moved out of state, pursued college degrees and started new careers, according to a report published Sunday.
Charles Siedlecki, 57, is one of 347 Chicago police officers on disability, according a Chicago Sun-Times report. In 1992, the officer fell and hurt his shoulder while chasing a group of teens. Since then, he hasn't worked as police officer, but went to law school, opened a law practice and continued hobbies, such as big-game hunting. During that time, he has collected more than $715,000 in disability pay, the newspaper reported.
The newspaper found that some officers never return to their jobs because of devastating injuries, such as paralysis. But others with less severe injuries often move to the suburbs or out-of-state, and some avoid returning in order to side-step desk work.
The disability money comes out of an already-underfunded pension system that's subsidized by taxpayers. Police officers are the only city employees allowed to work an outside job during disability leave, the newspaper reported, and they also maintain health benefits for themselves and their families and receive raises for their old jobs.
Two years ago, Siedlecki's doctor signed a report stating he was not "capable of safely discharging a firearm." But the police officer bagged a hippopotamus and a wildebeest during a hunting trip in Africa.
"Traveling on safari with your son doesn't equate to discharging a weapon on your hip as a police officer on the streets of Chicago," Siedlecki told the newspaper, defending his hobby.
He said he plans to stay on disability until he reaches the age of 63, when he is eligible for a city pension. By then, Siedlecki will have collected nearly $1 million in tax free disability pay, the Sun-Times reported.
In light of the newspaper's findings, aides for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said they would urge the police pension board to crack down on abuses.
"It is shameful that any individual would be dishonest about their disability to take advantage of the system, and we will continue to be as vigilant on behalf of the taxpayer to prevent cases of abuse and fraud," said Chief Financial Officer Lois Scott and Comptroller Amer Ahmad in a written statement.