Police seek approval of early retirement option
By Claude R. Marx
With long hours and threats on their lives, being a cop on the beat is often a far cry from the exciting world depicted on television.
Police officers are hoping to elicit sympathy for their sacrifices when the Massachusetts Legislature returns next month. They want lawmakers to let them retire earlier and reduce some of the stress in their lives.
City and town leaders say they are thankful for these sacrifices, but fear the added benefits from early retirement will strain their already overburdened budgets.
The debate will come to a head next year when lawmakers consider a measure that would allow local police officers to retire after 25 years of service with 75 percent of their salaries. They can currently retire with 80 percent of their salaries after 33 years.
Police unions say their members are not primarily concerned about the money.
"This will give them a chance to have a less stressful life after they finish being a policeman. This is a job that wears on you physically and emotionally," said Larry Crosman, a trustee for the Massachusetts Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police.
Massachusetts State Police officers already have the benefit, while state and county corrections officers are eligible to retire at 50 percent of their pay after 20 years.
In New Hampshire, police officers can retire at 50 percent of their salary if they are at least 45 years old.
David Baier, legislative director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said the bill would, "create an expensive benefit without regard to the costs." He added that communities would be forced to pay the salaries and health insurance expenses for new police officers, while still funding health insurance for young retirees not yet old enough to receive Medicare.
Police officers in the Bay State earn an average annual salary of $50,000, not including overtime and detail work, according to the Massachusetts Police Association. Pensions are based on the highest three years of salaries.
Costing towns more
North Andover, which this year is slated to pay $1.9 million into its retirement fund and $5.8 million for health insurance, would see its costs increase at an even faster rate if the town had more retirees, according to Town Manager Mark Rees. He noted that last year the town's health insurance costs were $1.6 million, up from $1.5 million two years ago.
Four of the town's 40 police officers have 25 or more years of service and three more are within a year of reaching the 25-year mark.
The Massachusetts Police Association, which lobbies the Legislature on police issues and supports the bill, estimates that between 10 percent and 15 percent of the state's approximately 19,000 municipal police officers have 25 or more years of service.
Association spokesman James Machado predicted that few officers would retire during their first year of eligibility. He noted that only about 2 percent of corrections officers retire after 20 years of service.
Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport, is sponsoring the measure in the House, and Rep. Joyce Spiliotis, D-Peabody, is a co-sponsor. Neither returned telephone calls seeking comment on the issue.
Sen. Joan Menard, D-Somerset, is the bill's main sponsor in the Senate, and Sen. Thomas McGee, D-Lynn, has introduced a measure that would require the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission to conduct a study of the costs of changing the retirement rules.
Shawn Feddeman, spokeswoman for Gov. Mitt Romney, said the administration has taken no position on the bills, but would review them if they are passed by the Legislature.
Menard's spokesman, Kevin Conlon, said that by allowing older officers to retire early, "it makes for younger police forces," and communities would save money because older officers are more apt to retire on disability.
Baier said the Mass. Municipal Association supports McGee's push for a study of the costs because, "I'm in favor of more information for everybody." He opposes a rule change that would solely benefit police department employees without a comprehensive overhaul of the retirement system.
Barbara Anderson, executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation, agreed that the retirement system needs to be changed so it becomes less expensive and is more in keeping with other states.
"I can understand why the police would want to get it, especially if you look at what other public employees get and what those at the upper level of the University of Massachusetts get," she said.
"But to the average taxpayer, all these pensions seem very high. They can't even fantasize about the pensions you get in the public sector. People in many private industry jobs can't retire until they are 66 under new Social Security rules."
Salem News December 31, 2004. www.salemnews.com
Editorial: Taxpayers can't afford earlier retirement for police
Police officers in Massachusetts seeking legislative approval to retire earlier may say their request is not about money. But it is - and a lot of money at that.
Right now, police officers can retire after 33 years on the job and collect 80 percent of their salaries. Next month, organizations representing police will petition the Legislature to reduce that requirement and allow them to retire at 75 percent salary after just 25 years.
"This will give them a chance to have a less stressful life after they finish being a policeman. This is a job that wears on you physically and emotionally," Larry Crosman, a trustee for the Massachusetts lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, told our reporter.
We don't doubt that being a police officer is a stressful job. But it is no more or no less stressful than any number of other careers people choose to pursue. And a career in law enforcement is just that - a choice.
Let's look at what police are requesting. Most people, even those who extend their educations through college, have working careers of more than 40 years - from the ages of 22 to 65. At the same time, life expectancy is approaching 80 years. Under this proposal, a police officer who begins a career at 25 can retire at 50 and spend more years collecting a pension than he or she did on the job. Taxpayers could be on the hook for 75 percent of this person's salary every year for more than 30 years.
A 25-year-old employee in the private sector today will have to work an additional 42 years to reach Social Security's full retirement age of 67.
Here is a prime example of why government is so expensive. It's not the day-to-day expenses that push budgets through the roof. It's the cost of an ever-growing list of entitlements and benefits demanded by and foolishly granted to public sector employees.
This year alone, North Andover will pay $1.9 million into its retirement fund and an additional $5.8 million for health insurance. Those costs rise with the number of retirees the town must support.
Statewide, there are 19,000 police officers each earning an average salary - not counting overtime and detail work - of $50,000. Between 10 percent and 15 percent of those officers already have 25 years of service. In the unlikely event that all of them retired on passage of this measure, the cost to the state would be $71 million to $107 million a year in added pensions alone. Even a more realistic assessment of the number of police who would retire means millions in added pension costs, plus the expense of training and paying replacement officers - who themselves could be retired in a mere 25 years.
Police officers, like other workers, deserve a decent pension after their working lives are over. But neither they nor other public employees deserve a ride on the gravy train while they are still young and have many productive years ahead of them.
It just isn't fair to the taxpayers who have to continue working well into their golden years to support them.
Salem News 12/31/04 www.salemnews.com