Just after 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010, Mario Oliveira was serving an arrest warrant in Somerville when he was shot six times in the chest, stomach and arm at point-blank range by a gun-trafficking suspect. He was transported to Massachusetts General Hospital where he underwent multiple surgeries by Dr. David King, a trauma services doctor who is also famous for his work on victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing.
Mario’s heart stopped twice on the operating table but ultimately the surgical team was able to save his life. Five months later, he returned to work but suffered a heart attack in November 2011 and learned he would no longer be able to serve as a police officer due to the severity of his injuries from being shot the year before. Five years later, in June 2015, Mario also suffered a stroke as a result of the shooting.
Through his work with V.I.P.O., he now dedicates his life to making sure that other officers and their families will have the resources they need when a law enforcement officer is killed or violently injured in the line of duty.
I have been fortunate to be able to speak to well over 1,000 police officers and chiefs about an issue that’s deeply personal to me and has the potential to impact each of them.
I’ve been sharing my story on behalf of the Violently Injured Police Officer’s Organization (VIPO) and have seen police unions and chiefs come together in an unprecedented show of unity around a critical issue: Having a plan to take care of officers who are severely injured in the line of duty and are forced to end their careers.
I will live the rest of my life with the burden of the injuries and complications I’ve dealt with since being critically injured while serving an arrest warrant with agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) eight years ago.
There is no way to sugar coat the situation. On Nov, 2, 2010, I was shot six times by a gun trafficker who we were trying to arrest. I died on the operating table and have been battling health problems and hospital stints ever since.
Nearly as difficult, however, is the battle I’ve fought each day since and coming to the realization that things might have been easier for my family if I had not survived my ordeal.
Imagine you’re a sergeant who was shot while responding to a robbery. If you die, your spouse is automatically entitled to one-time federal and state payments totaling over $600,000, tax free, plus the entirety of your base pay for the rest of their life and there are several programs that forgive property taxes.
Additionally, your kids will get free tuition to any state college and will be at the front of the line if they decide to follow in your footsteps and become a police officer.
But, if you respond to that same call and leave are left alive but with devastating and career-ending injuries, you’ll merely get 72 percent of your pay for the rest of your life with no benefits to your spouse and children. What’s worse, the process of trying to collect on that 72 percent is difficult, time-consuming, and leaves the officer feeling ashamed as they often face an adversarial city or town government and the burden of proving that their injuries — even gunshots — are job related and require you to leave the job you love.
That should not happen. It’s always upsetting to me when I break that news to cops who had no idea what kind of battle they’d be in for if, god forbid, they ever experience what I have.
I am extraordinarily grateful to my employer, the New England State Police information Network (NESPIN), for positioning me to take this message to so many in law enforcement. Their support has enabled my VIPO partner, Bob DiNapoli, and I to educate officers and build a unified base among unions and chiefs—who don’t always see eye to eye—and make real progress on behalf of law enforcement heroes.
There is a bill before the Massachusetts Legislature that would improve benefits and streamline the process for injured officers. The fight for that bill’s passage has placed labor unions and police chiefs on the same side of the aisle, and I could not be prouder than to watch labor and management come together and put aside differences for the common good.
I must single out Chelsea Police Chief Brian Kyes and Bedford Police Chief Robert Bongiorno for their commitment to this effort, which was on full display when they testified in front of the Senate Public Service Committee on Beacon Hill and advocated for more support for wounded officers.
Beyond backing me as I travel throughout Eastern Massachusetts educating cops about this hugely important issue, NESPIN has also dedicated resources to make a model line of duty injury policy available to all departments so that officers so officers never feel alone in navigating the fallout from a career-ending injury.
That battle is one I had to fight on my own, but VIPO and NESPIN are working together to ensure that cops don’t have to grapple with these issues after suffering life-altering injuries.