This is the blog for Robert Vincent, Chief of Police for the Gulfport (Florida) Police Department. Please feel free to leave comments, but keep in mind that anything appearing on this page may be subject to retention and disclosure in accordance with Florida public records law.

Please keep your posts clean and respectful. Comments are subject to review, and I do not permit lewdness, obscenity, or personal attacks.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Police Pensions--The Good and the Bad

Since the city council voted last week on first reading to adopt an improvement to the police pension benefits, I thought it would be appropriate to elaborate in the blog. Essentially, the proposed change would use state funds to increase the "multiplier" from 2.75 to 2.88, which would result in higher benefit payouts to retirees. This higher multiplier would be dependent upon continued receipt of state funds; if they are reduced or eliminated in the future, the multiplier could revert back to where it is now.

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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
Our committee meets on January 9th. If you have any comments or suggestions, please let me know.


  1. Chief, couple of related questions: has the City Council and/or the Chief's Association group looked at how pensions are handled in cities and municipalities outside of Florida? In other words, are there comparable departments (size, budget, capacity), in other states which handle the issue of pensions better (or worse)? Will the Chief's Association group consult with financial and market professionals for their input on what I agree should be a specialized package for folks who work in a high-stress environment like policing?

    Like you, I think a straight reduction of a benefits package is a bad idea. If the pension specifically has to be reduced, I hope that someone can provide creative solutions to at least off-set this (ex: a tuition reimbursement package for continued education, healthy lifestyle subsidies -- like gym memberships -- and mileage; don't know if you already have any of those, but you get the idea).

    Thanks for the great blog.

  2. Mr. Vincent, I was about to suggest that you consider contributions to your own fund, but you do that already. Yes, I agree that it can be a dangerous job so limiting street duty should be considered. I've known many retired officers through the years and they seem to be well adjusted. The job didn't seem to have taken too much of a toll on them, and Double Dippers demonstrate that life goes on after the Job is over. The reality is, that these pension systems are not sustainable; whether it be Government or Industries like GM. It's not that the public doesn't think that your deserving, it just seems to have gotten out of hand. International competition has forced the private sector to adjust for the new economy but since Government is not in a competitive market they have not had to adjust or have they volunteered to do so as a matter of course.

    I suspect the New Governor will have to cut Government spending and that the subsidy that your program receives may be on the chopping block. Your committee should strive to give the public some assurances that the departments are in line with the new realities, which, in the long run, would build confidence in an ever more suspicious world. Good Luck