Cops forced to make unfair choice


Pull over partner, I gotta run for the bathroom. Again.

The mind marvels at what's possible when a pregnant Suffolk County cop hits the street.

The county police department is in U.S. District Court this week because it gave pregnant cops a choice, beginning in 2000:

Work or stay home.

Sounds reasonable. But, as with so many things about pregnancy, it's not.

For one, a department that requires its officers to wear bulletproof vests on the job doesn't issue ones big enough for two. And the first notch on department-issue gun belts isn't big enough to handle the job either.

In this case, one size fits most doesn't work.

And that's the problem, even with the most recent revisions in the department's disability and leave policies. Hence, the department is now in federal court answering a lawsuit filed by six female officers.

For years, the department ignored abuses and favoritism in its light-duty program. But the program, for all its flaws, let pregnant cops keep working.

That changed under a department "reform" that reserved light duty for officers injured on the job. As pregnancy, presumably, doesn't happen on the job, women cops were left with a simple decision:

Can't chase that perp?

Go home.

Can't sit for surveillance?

Go home.

Can't handle that drunk?

Go home.

Cops are supposed to be cops. And women, whose numbers on the Suffolk force have been increasing, are supposed to have the same on-the-job opportunities as men.

That means men and women have equal opportunity to meet trouble when they leave the precinct house.

The female officers I know don't want to be treated like invalids during a pregnancy. They're the kind who keep running, keep working as long as they can.

But what happens when the baby is big?

Or the kid habitually leans on the painful sciatic nerve?

Or when cartilage around the pelvis, which softens during the last months of pregnancy, begins drifting too far apart?

What happens when a cop and her doctor determine that it's too dangerous for the officer to continue patrol work?

The answer is obvious, even for female police officers. They should be allowed to keep doing some form of police work, rather than effectively being forced to stay home.

That was true, even as departments in Suffolk and Nassau kept working to convert administrative desk jobs now held by police officers into civilian jobs. There are plenty of jobs pregnant cops can handle.

The department apparently has come to that conclusion too.

Recently, it changed light-duty policies again. Now, officers can request a desk job for non-duty-related injuries.

That should help pregnant cops, although lawyers for the six female plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit would like to see the department drop the requirement that an officer's supervisor make the decision.

What's astonishing is that the dispute made it to federal court.

The department had an opportunity to set things right back in 2003, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that it had discriminated against pregnant officers.

Pregnancy does many things, but it shouldn't hinder an officer's desire to serve.

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Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.

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