Police pensions have recently become a subject of great scrutiny, with many voters urging their legislators to take steps to reduce public funding for these programs. In response, the legislature has asked for input from the stakeholders. The Florida Chiefs of Police Association has formed a committee to develop a position statement on the subject, and I have been selected to serve on this committee. Before I make any official recommendations, I would love to hear your ideas as well.
So far, here are some of the things I will be taking into consideration:
- The majority of police pensions are defined-benefit programs, which means the retirement benefit is pre-determined. These types of programs can be very successful when investments are good. Unfortunately, public funds must be used to subsidize the programs if investment income is insufficient to pay out benefits.
- Many police pension programs do not require employees to contribute to the plan. Most notable among these is the Florida Retirement System (FRS), which seems to be the target of most of the controversy in this state. By the way, Gulfport officers are part of a completely independent system which has nothing to do with FRS. Gulfport officers contribute eight percent of their salary to their pension fund.
- Typical retirement for police officers can come much sooner than in other professions. In Gulfport, for example, officers can retire at age 52 if they have at least 25 years of service. They are then guaranteed benefit payments for the rest of their lives. With life expectancies getting higher, retired officers can easily spend more time collecting retirement benefits than they spent working.
- While all these things certainly cost money, maybe there are some valid reasons. I certainly don't want to sound like I am demeaning other professions, but law enforcement is very stressful, physically-demanding, and highly-dangerous work. I think to some degree, the enhanced retirement benefits are recognized as a reward for officers who have served under such conditions.
- Market factors usually determine pay and benefits in any business, and ours is no different. If we reduce the benefit package, that will certainly have an effect on who we are able to recruit. I foresee that we will have to reduce the standards in order to maintain the number of officers. Reducing the standards is the last thing I want to do.