Exploring Public Safety Pensions (Part 1)

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A few thoughts:

1. Public Safety Unions were made very strong by exceptionally bad management. Most unions grow and are fed by bad management. Cops become cops to put bad people in jail. I know that’s a simple statement, but what happens when they are no longer doing that because they are now managers? They all too often turn into martinets and take it out on subordinates. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but it’s far more often the case in law enforcement than it is in the private sector.

Ask any police officer where the real stress comes from. ‘The job’ or the administration?

2. Hiring Practices and Liability. There are a lot of places in the US where police officers are paid near minimum wage. The old saying is that you get what you pay for. In poor, very rural jurisdictions, you can get away with it. In wealthy, more urban and suburban areas, risk managers began to notice that hiring better educated, relying on better trained and “cleaner” law enforcement meant fewer lawsuits. One moderately sized lawsuit against a police officer for misconduct can cost a city/county/state more than that police officer would earn in an entire career.

Self-serving interests drove higher pay for police officers in many areas of the country.

3. Greedy Politicians took the money. When you combine dismal management practices and unduly harsh behavior (historically), more educated cops who combine into unions to protect themselves and add greedy politicians, you have a problem. It didn’t take cops long to understand that if they paid a portion of their salary into political action committees (PAC’s), that those union PAC’s could fund the election of politicians who would vote favorably toward their salary and benefits.

You can’t expect politicians to exercise any sort of self-restraint. It goes against the grain.

4. Matters of Integrity. Where you have well educated, professional law enforcement people, you have very little corruption. There are cities, mostly on the East Coast where police corruption is endemic. Try to give an officer on the West Coast a bribe to get out of a speeding ticket. He’ll ask you to speak a bit louder (for the microphone) and you’ll end up in jail. Cultures of corruption (such as we find in the Third World — or Chicago) are based on the notion of an informal form of taxation – bribes. People pay directly for services because the method of collecting public taxes doesn’t work well enough to pay public servants well enough to feed their families. You can’t give a person the authority that the public grants to police officers without demanding integrity. Unfortunately the better educated and paid tend to be more honorable than the minimum wage flunkies.

Nothing is as important as integrity.

5. How old should a police officer be when they retire? When I ask this question, I don’t want you to cite the poor old sod at age 65 who has been relegated to a job in the property room out of pity. Because of the nature of organizations, anyone can be thrown into the front line. How old is too old, when it is your (the citizen’s) life on the line?

The spirit is willing. The flesh is weak. 

Part 2 will be posted on this blog at 0400 HRS PST on 28 JUL 13

11 thoughts on “Exploring Public Safety Pensions (Part 1)

  1. It ain't the bad guys you have to watch out for, it's the "good" guys. The self back patting, ass kissing, stealing, report changing, untruthful, lazy, good for nothing "good" guys.

  2. That's how I always viewed it too. Dealing with the bad guys is easy and not particularly stressful.

  3. Law enforcement work is so complicated by all the laws and rules that indeed you need a degree to do it right. I can hardly imagine a police officer making minimum wage and staying in the job.

    On the issue of age, it's interesting to watch movies from the forties and fifties which have policemen in them. Often, the officers are clearly elderly, so back then at least it was not abnormal for cops to work into their sixties. I imagine that with some common sense modifications, an older cop, with his/her longer experience and – dare I say it – wisdom, might be a huge asset to the force in general and to younger cops in particular.

  4. The problem is common sense. Because of generally vindictive management, you'd more likely see the older guys sidelined into miserable jobs. (Read: The Choirboys. While I don't often rely on art to get the point across, it explains how that works.)

    I realize that it's possible and in many times desirable to have old police officers around because of wisdom and experience. However, you presume that management would put them in those positions where they would be most valuable. I've seen cases where that is indeed the case, but it's not a general rule.

    Private industry runs on a profit motive where you do what you can to make more money, so one would presume that more valuable people are put where they can do the most good. Government has no parallel to that. Sometimes you see a valuable person put where they can make the boss look good. That's about as close as you get. (Consider the Obama Administration as an example of rotten intentions and horrible management and you're in the ballpark)

  5. P. S. I recall a conversation with Lieutenant Jack (WoFat) Willoughby, New Orleans PD (ret). WoFat called me and told me that his wife, Judy was pushing him to retire. She said that if he didn't, he'd end up killing somebody in administration. Jack told me that he sat down and realized that Judy was absolutely correct, walked in to work the next day, and submitted his paperwork to retire.

    The Jack Willoughby saga is played out in police departments across America in disturbing regularity.

    You'll note that I don't call for "police management reform". I don't feel that it can be. I am simply trying to explain why the pension systems tend to be the way that they are.

  6. LL, thanks for the insight… FYI, in Europe LEOs don't retire until they are age 62. "Most" of them, according to the officers I was talking to, either promote or leave.

  7. Out west there are departments that terminate for lying about spilling a coke on a computer (true story)…back east, you could beat your wife with the keyboard, claim disability for hurting your wrist during the beating, and take paid leave for a year (slight exaggeration, but only slight) to recover from your injury…

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