May 15, 1989
BYLINE: By Dawn Smith. Compiled by Michele K. Parente
Gov. Mario Cuomo proposed a $ 1.5-million legislative program yesterday to aid the families of slain police officers, stressing the importance of such a measure in an age of rampant violent crime.
“It has never been the way it is now,” Cuomo said. “There have never been the weapons, there’s never been the madness, there’s never been the crack.”
Cuomo, flanked by injured officers and widows and children of slain officers, spoke at his World Trade Center conference room. When asked if the legislation was proposed as a result of his refusal to support the death penalty, he said the two issues are unrelated.
The five proposed bills – collectively titled Care for Our Police and Survivors (COPS) – are the result of Cuomo’s meeting last month with the three widows of New York City police officers. In November, they founded Survivors of the Shield (SOS), an organization of spouses and children of slain police officers.
The most costly bill, estimated at $ 1.2 million per year, would allow spouses of slain police officers to remarry and still continue to receive death benefits in the form of a pension. Under current law, those benefits end when the spouse remarries.
Another bill would establish scholarships for the children of slain police officers, covering tuition and board at the State University of New York.
Those measures would be retroactive, aiding families of officers slain before passage. Seven New York City police officers were killed in the line of duty last year. One city police officer, Robert Machate, has been killed this year.
A third bill would permit injured police officers or the families of slain police officers to initiate civil action to recover damages resulting from negligence, a right already possessed by firefighters.
The two other bills would authorize payment of burial expenses for slain police officers through the Crime Victims Board and the erection of a monument to honor officers killed on duty.
“None of this is going to undo the loss or the pain, but at least it will tell the police officers how much all of us – all 18 million of us – care about them,” Cuomo said.
The legislation has the backing of state lawmakers, the governor said.
Phil Caruso, president of the New York City Police Benevolent Association, thanked Cuomo for such a proposal at a time of limited funding. “This means so much to public safety,” he said.
The three SOS founders were present, including its president, Susan McCormack, whose husband, Joseph, was shot in 1983 by a man angered by a family dispute.
“This started out as a dream – I now believe in dreams,” McCormack said, tears filling her eyes. “This is a memorial far better than a name carved in a stone for my husband.”
Co-founder Kathleen Murray – her husband, Brian, killed by a terrorist bomb explosion in 1976 – also was pleased by the proposed package. “We thought the department forgot about you not long after your husband was killed,” she said.
The third co-founder, Mary Beth Ruotolo, whose husband, Thomas, was killed in 1984 by a convict out on parole, said it took years for the widows of the slain officers to organize a lobby effort because it was so difficult to talk about financial problems. “It took a long time to say, ‘I’m not fine. I’ve got problems,” she said.
Accompanied by his wife, Patti Ann, and his son, Conor, Police Officer Steven McDonald, paralyzed by a gunshot, introduced the governor, saying, “No state in the nation will give cops and their families the protection this bill will.”
Cuomo called for other measures, such as giving top priority to attacks on police officers. “Any assault on a police officer will be given a fast track,” he said.