New Bedford City Council: Treat Safety Personnel COVID Deaths as ‘Line of Duty’
NEW BEDFORD — The City Council unanimously passed a motion Thursday calling on New Bedford to treat Covid-19 deaths of public safety personnel as presumed deaths in the line of duty, which would entitle spouses to their full pension.
Several relatives of the late New Bedford Police Sgt. Michael Cassidy attended Thursday’s City Council meeting in which city councilors Hugh Dunn, Ian Abreu and Scott J. Lima spoke on behalf of the measure.
“There are so many ways officers can come into contact with the disease, and we ask them to go out and risk their lives, and be exposed to the disease,” said Dunn, the Ward 3 city councilor.
“We should give them the benefit that they get when it's a line of duty death,” Dunn said. “It seems very simple. In fact, it's confusing to me why we need to have this conversation.”
Cassidy died April 28 from Covid-19. He was 52, and had been a New Bedford police officer since 1994. He was also a U.S. Marine who served in Operation Desert Storm. Several of his family members wore blue “Mike Strong” T-shirts during Thursday’s City Council meeting.
Cassidy’s widow, Deborah, later said the measure would help surviving family members such as herself and her daughter.
“It’s a start, and hopefully this gets moved forward, so we can get this passed, not just for my husband but for all his brothers and sisters in the future,” Deborah Cassidy said.
Dunn said the motion will be referred to the council’s Ordinance Committee, which he chairs. He said the committee, working with the city solicitor’s office, will explore if the city, by itself, can classify Covid-19 deaths as line-of-duty, or if such a move requires state-level legislation.
Councilor-at-large Abreu mentioned that there is a pending bill in the state senate that would make the required change.
“The purpose of the motion is to advance the conversation about how we treat not only our first responders, but all city employees who may have suffered any type of illness or possibly death regarding Covid-19,” Abreu said.
“This is a conversation which is long overdue, and it needs to be had, and it needs to be had right away, not only here in these City Council chambers, but with the administration and with our state partners,” Abreu added.
From a practical standpoint, Lima, the Ward 5 councilor, also said it “makes sense” to presume that Cassidy contracted Covid-19 in the line of duty.
“We should take care of his family,” Lima said. “It’s the right thing to do.”