Shooting Survivor: Don’t Take My Police Disability Pension


This memorial clock in Haddon Heights represents the incident of April 20, 1995 in which Detective Richard Norcross was injured and two others, including his brother, were killed.

By Richard Norcross

Special for South Jersey Sunday

Next month I will be giving a lecture again to the new class of recruits at Camden County Police Academy, as I have done for every class since 1996. I will tell the officers they must be courageous, professionals and, above all, never give up because our society relies on them.

They will be expected to do their duty and, if need be, to sacrifice their bodies for their neighbor. I always told them, “Your community will be behind you. Now, I’m afraid, I can’t say that anymore.

I will tell them how on April 20, 1995, investigator Jack McLaughlin of the Camden County District Attorney’s Office was murdered by a suspected pedophile with an assault rifle while we were executing a search warrant in Haddon Heights. I’m going to tell them how I was a detective with the Haddon Heights Police Department, supporting Jack, and being shot five times. Finally, I will tell them how my brother, Ptl. John Norcross answered the “shots” call and was assassinated.

One sunny spring afternoon, I lost part of my life forever. I was on life support for several days. The mental and physical pain was indescribable. My family was devastated. I had 22 surgeries for my injuries and still carry one of these bullets to this day.

I suffered from survivor’s guilt and struggled relentlessly with post-traumatic stress disorder. No doctor can tell me how good my life will be in the future – only that these wounds will never heal completely.

State Senator Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd Dist., Introduced a bill that would victimize injured officers like me. S1913, if adopted, would penalize me for going through the pain and trying to get my life back on track. The bill puts in place a salary cap that would limit the amount I can earn in my life and keep my pension.

The accidental disability pension I received for being injured in the line of duty is approximately $ 34,000 per year. With the adoption of this bill, my pension will be reduced to $ 0, because I overcame the mental and physical pain and made a new life for me and my family. I did this with the help of friends, family, community, and the state pension system that took care of me when I sacrificed myself for them.

I applaud any reform that combats abuse of the pension system. I understand that there are crooks who try to exploit loopholes in the system for their own ends. Many politicians and their buddies, for example, accumulate years of credit from part-time positions and then take pensions to which they have paid next to nothing.

I have not abused the pension system. I, and other executives like me, were full-time employees paying full pension contributions. Victimizing myself and other officers like me who have been shot, stabbed and severely assaulted in the line of duty will not solve the kind of financial problems we have.

Why have we become the bad guys? Why does my family still have to suffer? They certainly don’t need their lives to be damaged anymore.

I do not understand why the state decided that it would no longer take care of its wounded officers. Will removing the disability pension for officers who survive injuries in the line of duty and reinvent their lives really help balance the books?

Surely the state wants us to move forward instead of sitting around mourning our wounds that will never heal. Take it from me; you have to do it, or you die. The removal of my disability pension is a deterrent to continuing my life, as it creates a financial penalty for doing so. Do the people of this state want?

So, at the beginning of this article, next month I will stand in front of the new state policemen. Please tell me what to say to the new hires? How do you explain to them that they are expected to do their duty but that they will be abandoned if they are injured and try to move on? Who do I tell them who will protect them, since the state is apparently no longer going to take care of our people?

Richard Norcross now resides in Mullica Hill.


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