Officers restricted on sick time donations to officer fighting cancer

Officer Nicki Stone (Source: Waco Tribune)

WACO, Texas – Nicki Stone has a passion for helping people. That’s why she became a Waco police officer.

She knows what it’s like to feel bullets whizzing past her head as she rushes toward a crime scene.

She has held the head of a shooting victim while coaxing him to hang on while medical help was on the way.

She knows the satisfaction of finding the home of a child predator after a three-hour search based on the sketchy description of the location from a traumatized young sexual- assault victim.

Now that Stone is fighting breast cancer, the 34-year-old single mother of two said she knows what it feels like for the city she risks her life for to turn its back on her and her fellow officers trying to help in her darkest time of need.

City employees are allowed to accrue sick time over the years, and officers have offered to donate some of their sick time to Stone while she is missing work after a double mastectomy and chemotherapy sessions.

But the city said no, citing a longstanding policy against such practices.

Some of the same officers also have offered to donate their sick time to a Waco police detective who has missed work because his 7-year-old daughter has cancer. The city also said no in that case.

But, Waco City Manager Dale Fisseler disagrees. The city did offer to grant the officers additional sick time, but only after they use up all other time off they earned, Fisseler said.

He met with Waco Police Chief Ryan Holt on the topic of the officers donating their sick time to the two officers.

Holt would not discuss the meeting and instructed the department’s public information officer, Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton, to retract a statement he gave the Tribune-Herald on the subject and to decline comment.

“If I had been in that meeting, my question would have been, ‘Why not?’ ” Stone said. “We are risking our lives to save others on the street. I am literally fighting for my life now, and if someone wants to bless my life and their’s as well, because I believe helping others blesses your life, also, if someone wants to help save my life, what is there to question? But the city won’t allow other officers to help me. That makes no sense. It’s the city saying, ‘Don’t do the right thing.’ It blows my mind.”

Officers volunteered for more than a month to work Stone’s 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift, pulling double shifts and allowing her to continue drawing a salary from the shifts they worked for her. But it’s different in the detective’s case because it’s not feasible for other officers to pick up a detective’s caseload and work it.

Waco Police Association President Ken Reeves said a lot of officers came forward to donate their sick time to Stone and the detective, who declined to be interviewed for this story.

Reeves said officers can bank thousands of hours in sick time, but when an officer retires, the city pays only for 720 of those hours. If the city allows officers to give 40 hours to another officer, for example, the city views that as an expenditure that it otherwise wouldn’t have to pay, he said.

‘More than just money’

“We would just like to see the city look at their employees in terms other than just dollars and cents and more than just money,” Reeves said. “We would like to see them take care of our brothers and sisters. We aren’t even talking about that much money.

“The officers have already earned that money in terms of benefits. It is their money, and they should be able to use that money in any way they want to, especially if it is to help someone sick or dying. The city’s best commodity is its employees, and taking care of them ought to be paramount.”

Fisseler said donating sick leave to a fellow employee is contrary to longstanding city policy and “we don’t think it is a good idea for a lot of reasons.”

“We don’t have a policy that allows that because you earn your own sick leave. If you donate yours to everyone and then you need it, then you can have a problem,” Fisseler said. “Right off the bat, if you get the city to pay for more by donating it to others, it is going to have a negative impact on the city’s costs.”

Fisseler did, however, approve a plan for employees to earn extra sick leave, but employees must first have used up all their leave time before they can have access to it.

“They asked for additional sick leave, and we granted it,” Fisseler said. “We have existing policies to do what they need. They are trying to create new policies, and it’s been working like this for a long, long time.”

Reeves said the problem with what the city is proposing is that officers cannot earn additional sick time until they use all their earned time off, including sick days, comp time, vacation and holidays.

“The sad thing about that is after you zero out all your time off, you could work two years and not get a vacation, and who wants to work as a police officer, which as you know is very stressful, for two years without a vacation?” Reeves said. “The things police see on a day-to-day basis, they have got to get away. It is not something you can do every day and not have some time off.”

The officers are trying to create a new policy when one is not needed, Fisseler said.

“They are speculating, because they haven’t asked for it,” Fisseler said, referring to future time off. “So the question would be, ‘What is it in the future they are afraid of us not doing, because I have never turned one down. Why is that a problem? If you use it all up, we still granted it when they have needed it. So it sounds like they are concerned about trying to get some in the future when they may not need it.”

Short-term disability

Stone, who has been a patrol officer for three years, used up the 480 hours granted under the Family and Medical Leave Act and is now on short-term disability. That allows her to draw 75 percent of her pay while raising a 12-year-old son and a 4-year-old daughter.

Stone, who has no history of breast cancer in her family, found a quarter-size lump in November 2016 and was diagnosed with breast cancer in February. She underwent a double mastectomy Feb. 24 and started chemotherapy in April.

She has had three chemo treatments so far and undergoes one every three weeks. She likely will start radiation treatments after that and hopes to be back at work in mid-August.

She knows it could be some time before she is back on patrol, but the department is working with her to find other jobs, perhaps in the area of training, she said.

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