AUSTIN (KXAN) -
Investigators tasked with finding out how a Travis County Sheriff’s sergeant died last month say it could be either a homicide or self-inflicted, but they say they’re still gathering the facts of how he was fatally shot with his own firearm.
That investigative outcome and the Medical Examiner’s report into the cause and manner of death are particularly important to the family of a fallen officer in determining if families are compensated for their loss.
Texas loses more law enforcement officers in the line of duty than any other state. The Officer Down Memorial Page shows of the 70 officers nationwide who’ve given the ultimate sacrifice this year, 14 worked in the Lone Star State. In 2015, 130 officers lost their lives, 12 were employed in Texas.
To help surviving families, most cities and counties offer employee retirement and pension plans. These benefits—accrued over a career of public service—can be passed along to a spouse no matter how that employee dies, a spokesman for the Texas County and District Retirement System says.
For law enforcement, there are other avenues of compensation. Police union group, TMPA offers a $10,000 death benefit to members. The president of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, or CLEAT, tells KXAN the organization immediately pays $15,500 to a fallen officer’s family.
“[The surviving children] have six years to get their degree because we found a lot of times, depending on when the tragedy occurred, they’re not able to get through the course work in time,” says CLEAT’s Charley Wilkison.
A special state fund provides $500,000 for the families of officers who die on the job. This year, lobbyist groups such as CLEAT are hoping lawmakers agree to double the pay out to $1 million this year. Last legislative session, the pay out was itself doubled from $250,000. Three-hundred-thousand dollars is also available in federal benefits. Free state college tuition and stipends are made available for surviving children as well.
Yet the language of Section 615 of the Texas Government Code is specific:
“The benefit paid under Chapter 615 is available only when the (officer) suffers a death resulting from the performance of his or her duty…”
Put another way, the state provides benefits to the families of fallen officers if they are intentionally or accidentally killed while on the job. The statute makes no mention a pay out in cases of suicide.
Visit the Peace Officer's Memorial Foundation at www.POMF.org to donate.