Democratic Dutchess County legislators want to expand certain protections to probation officers. This comes after a probation officer suffered a near-fatal dog attack in 2018 while checking on a probationer.
On June 30, 2018, Officer Michele Pfeil, a 29-year veteran of the probation department, says she was conducting an employment check on a probationer who was being electronically monitored in the Town of Milan. As she stepped out of her car, she was knocked down by two trained attack dogs—Great Danes--which ripped into her arms, legs, shoulder and abdomen. She nearly bled to death.
“The 207c is not going to benefit me at this time in my career. I have six months left to go until I reach my 30 years of service. But my fight now is for my co-workers,” Pfeil says. “And we’re the only peace officers in Dutchess County that don’t have this protection, this benefit. And it’s way overdue for probation officers, and we’re just trying to get protection for probation officers in Dutchess County.”
Ten Dutchess County legislators proposed a bill Wednesday to provide probation officers with protections currently provided to other peace officers in the county: full pay, benefits, and medical and hospitalization coverage while recovering from injuries sustained on the job. Legislator Rebecca Edwards leads the Democratic caucus.
“Nassau County has done this since, I think, 1999, and it requires a home rule,” Edwards says. “So it took us several months to figure this out that what we need to do is submit this bill, which is basically a home-rule request, and then have the state authorize that. And then we would have to vote again, yes, we do want to exercise that option.”
Section 207c of state municipal law provides officers injured in the line of duty with payment of their full salary during their absence from work and covers the cost of medical treatment. In a statement, Republican Dutchess County Legislature Chairman Gregg Pulver said he has met with Pfeil as well as union members about the situation and 207c over the past several months. He says, “The Governor, in Veto Memo 185 of 2018, stated it is illegal and improper to legislate this benefit as it is a benefit reserved for contract negotiations pursuant to Civil Service Law Article 14. Both the Executive Office and myself informed the minority leadership of the legal preclusion issue several times over the past months and that legislation could not create this benefit.” Again, Pfiel.
“Well, it’s kind of disturbing, actually, because I’ll sit there in the meetings and they’ll look at me and say, your case, obviously, is the perfect example of somebody that deserves 207c, and then they’ll say, but, the but comes in, it’s costly and it’s abused,” says Pfiel. “And, and I looked at them and said, but, but, somebody’s going to die out there or somebody’s going to get injured and it’s going to be devastating to their families or them. And we need to be protected just like police officers are protected or just like corrections officers are protected because we deal with criminals every single day that we go to work. So, it’s a fight that we’re not going to give up. We’re going to continue to fight every day until hopefully we can get it passed.”
Pfiel suffered a brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, and continues to receive medical treatment. Legislator Edwards says expense seems to be the concern among those who do not support such a change.
“It may be fairly infrequent that a probation officer would need to have line-of-duty pay, but we have this kind of dramatic example of why they, as a matter of peace of mind, they need it, even if perhaps less often than regular police officers it’s going to be an issue, but, she nearly died,” Edwards says.
Before the attack, Officer Pfeil had planned to retire with her full 30-year pension. After her benefit time and worker’s compensation ran out, however, her time towards retirement no longer accumulated, and she remained six months short of eligibility for full retirement. Pfeil was given the choice of returning to work full time, despite continued physical and emotional pain, or having to retire with a reduced pension. She now works a desk job at a satellite office of the county sheriff’s department.