By Sean M. Marschke
Wisconsin and the nation observe National Police Week and Peace Officers Memorial Day in remembrance of law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.
In 2018 alone, 163 fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and loved ones lost their lives serving as a police officer across the country. Wisconsin lost two of its officers in 2018 - A somber reminder of the ultimate sacrifice these men and women give to protect our communities and our families.
It may be difficult to believe, but currently in Wisconsin, if you are a law enforcement officer and are killed in the line of duty, your spouse and children lose their health insurance benefits. A traumatic fact and a cold reality for a family that just experienced the worst day of their lives.
In 2009 Wisconsin passed a law requiring municipalities to continue to provide health insurance coverage for surviving spouses and children of firefighters who died in the line of duty. Unfortunately, law enforcement was not included in the legislation.
This week bipartisan legislation was introduced by State Senators Van Wanggaard (R-Racine) and Janet Bewley (D-Mason) and State Representatives John Spiros (R-Marshfield) and Steve Doyle (D-Onalaska) that would provide the same benefits that firefighters and those in the military receive if killed on duty. In many Wisconsin cases, these fallen officers are providers for a family, a family that depends on the income and benefits provided by the officer's position. When these officers are lost, the family can struggle to not only make up for the loss of a loved one, but a loss of their basic needs as well.
The Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, along with a broad coalition of public safety professionals, including; the Badger State Sheriffs' Association, County Law Enforcement Professionals of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Professional Police Association, Wisconsin Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Association, and the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin are encouraging legislators to sign onto the proposal.
The coalition members are asking elected officials a simple question, "If you 'Back the Badge' why not back their spouse and kids?"
Similar legislation was introduced in previous legislative sessions and had wide bipartisan support but did not get signed into law. The public safety coalition hopes to have this commonsense legislation signed into law this session.
Though this legislation will only impact a few families each year, it allows law enforcement the assurance that if something did happen, their families would not have the added stress of worrying about insurance while they are saying their final goodbyes.
In an age where new officer recruiting classes are getting smaller every year, it is time that the state officially show strong support for the officers, as well as the loved ones that share a commitment to our society's wellbeing.
Sean M. Marschke is President of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association of Wisconsin (WCPA). WCPA is a statewide organization representing top local law enforcement in more than 700 communities across the state.