Local News

Bill aimed at helping fallen officers' families

Posted March 25, 2009 4:38 p.m. EDT
Updated March 25, 2009 6:23 p.m. EDT

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— A bill that the General Assembly is considering would give spouses of fallen police officers access to police pensions without penalty.

Currently, when an officer dies in the line of duty, his or her pension – 6 percent a year, plus 4 percent interest – goes to the surviving spouse. However, it must be rolled into another retirement fund, such as an IRA, or there are major penalties.

House Bill 766 (Senate Bill 411) would give spouses the option to take the money in a lump sum without penalty, to receive a monthly check or to roll it into an IRA.

As the bill stands, it would benefit only officers with 15 or more years of service and would not include the match money that the state has put into the retirement fund. It would be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2007.

According to the legislative staff who worked on the bill, the cost to the state would less than 0.01 percent of the entire state payroll.

"This gives us a chance to do something nice to support those families with the tragedy of an officer who has given the ultimate sacrifice," said Sen. Peter Brunstetter, R-Forsyth, who is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill.

Joyce Plouff's husband, Winston-Salem police Sgt. Howard Plouff, was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2007, but she was unable to access his pension because he had only been on the force 17.5 years – 2.5 years short of his retirement.

Under the proposed bill, she could have received his retirement income without penalty or without having to wait.

"Your world is turned upside down," she said Wednesday. "You don't know where you're going or what you're doing – never mind how you're going to pay the utility bill."

Over the past 10 years, North Carolina has ranked fourth in the nation in officers feloniously killed in the line duty, with the exception of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Fifty-eight percent of officer deaths occur in the Southeast. On average, four officers are killed in the line of duty in North Carolina each year.