AN OFFICER WRITES: Next month, I will tell a class of police academy recruits that they have to be courageous, professional and above all never give up because our society counts on them. I will tell them they will be expected to do their duty and, if need be, sacrifice their bodies or lives. Since 1996, I have also told each new class of recruits that their community will be behind them. Now I fear I can no longer say that.
Instead, I will relate to them how on April 20th, 1995, Investigator Jack McLaughlin of the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office was murdered by a suspect armed with an assault rifle while we executed a search warrant in Haddon Heights.
I will tell them how I was shot five times.
And I will tell them how my brother, Patrolman John Norcross, responded to the shots fired call and was murdered.
One sunny spring afternoon, I lost part of my life forever. I was on life support for several days. The pain both mentally and physically was indescribable. My family was devastated.
I have endured 22 surgeries for my injuries and still carry one of those bullets to this day. I have suffered with the survivor’s guilt and I have battled non-stop against my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. No doctor can tell me what the quality of my life will be in the future — only that these injuries will never completely heal.
State Sen. Sweeney has introduced a bill that will victimize wounded officers like me.
Senate Bill S1913 will penalize me for pushing through the pain and trying to regain my life by putting a salary cap into place that would limit how much I can earn in my life.
The Accidental Disability Pension I received for being wounded in the line of duty is about $34,000 per year. With the passage of this bill it will be reduced to $0 because I have pushed through the mental and physical pain and made a new life for my family and me. I have done this with the help of friends, family, community and the state pension system that took care of me after I sacrificed for all.
I applaud any reform that battles abuses of the pension system. I understand that there are scammers trying to exploit loopholes in the system for their own purposes — a lot of politicians and their cronies, for example, who accumulate years of credit from part-time positions and then take pensions to which they have contributed almost nothing.
I have not abused the pension system. I and the other officers like me were full-time employees making full pension contributions. Victimizing me and other officers like me who have been shot, stabbed, and seriously assaulted in the line of duty will not solve the kinds of financial problems we have. Why have we become the bad guys? Why does my family have to suffer again? They definitely do not need to have their lives damaged anymore.
I do not understand why the State has decided that it will no longer take care of its wounded officers. Is taking away the disability pension of officers who survive being wounded in the line of duty, and go on to reinvent their lives, really going to help balance the books?
Surely the state wants us to move on instead of sitting around weeping about wounds that will never heal. Take it from me: You have to or you die.
Taking my disability away is a disincentive to move on with my life because it creates a financial penalty for doing so. Is that what the people of this state want?
So next month I will stand up in front of the newest police officers in the state. Please tell me what I should tell the new recruits. How do I explain to them that they will be expected to do their duty but will be abandoned if they are wounded and try to move on?
Who should I tell them is going to protect them?
Before his injuries forced retirement after 25 years, Richard Norcross was the commander of the Intelligence Services Team for the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office. He has received numerous medals and commendations, including the prestigious New Jersey Gold Medal of Valor and the Combat Cross and Wounded in Combat Medal. Norcross, who now is with CSI Technology Group, is also president of the East Coast Gang Investigator’s Association and has also served as a Policy Board Member & Secretary for the Mid Atlantic Great Lakes Organized Crime Law Enforcement Network (MAGLOCLEN). He is still a Trustee for the Camden County Detectives Association and is one of the founding members of the Police Intelligence Group of South Jersey. He also volunteers to work with law enforcement professionals and their families in the aftermath of tragedies that have resulted in serious injury or death to officers.