Philly cops say they're honored that 290 of them will be deputized as U.S. Marshals during President-elect Barack Obama's swearing-in ceremony Jan. 20 in Washington.
But the special duty could prove hazardous - and City Councilman Frank Rizzo is asking who would be responsible for the officers' care should any of them be injured.
"My first concern is that our officers are entirely protected and that there's no disputes or lawsuits in reference to any injury they may receive in the line of duty in D.C.," Rizzo said yesterday. "I don't want us to get into any kind of contest, with [the federal government] saying, 'Well, we didn't assume responsibility.'
"I'm proud of our officers going, but in the haste of saying 'yes,' I just want to make sure the officers are protected."
U. S. Marshals spokeswoman Carolyn Gwathmey said that care and insurance depends on which agency contracted with the assigned officers, who are coming to D.C. from across the United States.
"It's a complicated issue, because there are other federalized departments that may make a request for officers," Gwathmey said, noting that the FBI or other agencies may contract with local police departments for the needed officers. "The sponsoring agency is the one responsible, so it's not a yes or no answer."
Gwathmey said that an injured officer could contact the Department of Labor, which would determine if the injury occurred while in the employ of the federal government and the amount of care and compensation the injured officer would receive.
But Rizzo said that that doesn't go far enough in determining care.
"It's still not clear who is responsible," Rizzo said. "It's just not clear to me what would happen to any officer injured in the line of duty. I just want to make sure there are no gray areas."
Steve Johnson, deputy police commissioner who will be commanding the officers going to Washington, said that he is doing all he can to ensure their safety - and that of the incoming president.
"We arrive [in the capital] on January 18 to take care of housing, on the 19th we'll attend meetings and are given our parade assignments," Johnson said. "Then, on the 20th, we'll be deployed along the route."
Johnson said that the 290 officers would come from districts throughout the city, and that commanders had handpicked cops for the assignments.
"Each commissioner selected people from his or her chain of command," Johnson said yesterday during a break in an anti-terrorism conference in Washington.
Johnson said that it's an honor to be part of the deployment protecting the first African-American president.
"I can't reiterate enough how much of an honor it is," said Johnson, who is African-American. "Although it will be real hard work, we should have a good time."
He said that the department has a plan to cover for officers who otherwise would be on duty in Philadelphia.
"Safeguards are in place, and no one particular department" will be adversely affected, Johnson said. "Many of the officers going will be in day-off status, and many officers are members of tactical units that would otherwise be off on that weekend.
"And, it being the middle of January, it's usually a more tranquil time," Johnson said.