OUR OPINION: State should provide clarity on officer aid

Tupelo’s and the surrounding area’s outpouring in response to the death of Tupelo police Sgt. Gale Stauffer and the wounding of officer Joseph Maher has been heartfelt.

So, too, has been the community’s rallying on behalf of the family of Union County Deputy Clinton Frazier, who also died in the line of duty recently.

Multiple fundraising events for the families of these men have already taken place and accounts set up to support them. These reflect the deep appreciation Northeast Mississippians have for the public servants who lay their lives on the line every day for the rest of us and who, on occasion, make the ultimate sacrifice.

But one unsettling element that has come out of the recent tragedies has been a lack of clarity of what’s permitted in helping law enforcement officers and their families in the wake of death or debilitation.

In a moving and magnanimous gesture, Tupelo police colleagues and other city employees stepped forward to offer the donation of their own accumulated leave time to ensure that Maher would get his full pay as he recovers from his Dec. 23 shooting at the hands of a bank robber who killed Stauffer. Worker’s compensation payments will not exceed two-thirds of Maher’s salary during the recovery period.

Other assistance is available from a special fund in the attorney general’s office, but Mayor Jason Shelton and the City Council initially believed the donation of leave time was necessary because state law placed constraints on “gifts” to officers, even those wounded in the line of duty.

State Rep. Steve Holland and others got involved with city officials and by the end of last week were convinced that the city either already had or would get the authority to do whatever it sees fit in compensating Maher and the family of Stauffer.

While the desire of police and other city employees to donate leave time for Maher is generous and inspiring, it shouldn’t have to be done that way. There ought to be a clear way for the city to make up the difference to ensure that Maher gets full pay while he recovers without others having to give up their time. That’s only right and just, given what Maher has been through.

The same holds true for any payments the city might choose to make to the Stauffer family.

Whether that requires a change in state law, or simply a an authoritative clarification of current law, it needs to happen so that the city can act.