The Chicago Police Department announced in late November that the deaths of three of its officers from COVID-19 in 2021 have been determined to be in the line of duty.
According to a Chicago P.D. spokesperson, this determination allows the families of Officers James Svec, Joseph Tripoli and Jose Huerta to access financial benefits. Beneficiaries receive the deceased officer’s annual salary for one year and, pending approval from the City Council, the spouse and any children under 26 years of age receive health-care benefits, the Chicago Tribune reports.
The spokesperson also said that the names of the officers will be added to the department’s Memorial Wall alongside the names of four other officers who died of COVID-19.
Liz Huerta, wife of Officer Huerta, was happy to finally receive closure.
“It was hard. It was hard explaining to my kids why Mom doesn’t have any answers. So when we did get the news, my kids and I were happy he’s being honored the way he is now, finally,” she told reporters.
Families of the fallen may also be eligible to receive the officer’s pension, but first must have their claim approved by the City Council, as the money comes from government sources.
Since Officer Huerta’s death, his family has been struggling to make ends meet. Liz Huerta, who was working part time when her husband died, was removed from her husband’s insurance plan three months after his passing. She was able to obtain insurance after moving from part time to full time at her current job
The community chipped in to support the Huerta family. A GoFundMe page created for them raised $60,000.
Despite the recent good news, there is still some confusion following the designation.
“They tell me insurance will kick in again, but no one has actually sat down or explained what benefits or what comes with him being designated line of duty,” Liz Huerta said.
Liz Huerta shared that the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) was instrumental in obtaining the designation for the fallen officers. Local FOP President John Catanzara was “the one that’s been letting me know what’s been happening.”
For his part, Cataranza criticized the city for delaying the designation, and said it was “pathetic that it took almost a year” to make the decision.
The union leader explained that the union pushed hard for the designation, and “made it very clear to the city’s negotiating team our intent to provide legal counsel for those three families to sue the city and embarrass them into doing the right thing if we had to.”
COVID-19 deaths, which were the leading cause of death among police officers in 2020 and 2021, are increasingly being classified as line-of-duty deaths by agencies and local governments.
For instance, in the state of Florida, many agencies have decided to consider COVID-19 as a line-of-duty death. Florida lawmakers are also considering changing state law to classify deaths due to COVID-19 as occurring in the line of duty so that families of victims can receive financial support.