Monday, March 09, 2009

Double Dipping, The Good The Bad And The Necessary

So called Double Dipping is very much in the news at this time as the push for changes works its way through the legislature. As most issues are, this one is not a black and white issue. The problem with programs like this is not the entire program, but rather the fact that abuses can and will take place. This causes people to want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Law Enforcement is one area where hiring retired officers makes dollars and sense, and serves the taxpayer. Law Enforcement and Fire Fighters have a 20 year retirement. This was incorporated years ago (1970's ?) across New Mexico as a way to add incentive for men and women to go into the profession. When I started in 1988 I took a cut in pay from my job as a service advisor at a local car dealership to be an police officer. I was making about $8 an hour with commissions and I went to work with the Santa Fe Police Department as an officer for $6.00 an hour. Why would I take a cut in pay? I was newly married and had a child on the way. I needed health insurance and retirement benefits. While the pay was not as good as the private sector the stability and benefits made the job switch worthwhile.

I started my career in law enforcement at age 24 and many started at age 18- 21. That means that the officers I started with were eligible to retire at ages 38-42. Imagine that! Retiring at age 38. Now the truth of the matter is that they would not truly retire. Who can just go fishing at age 38? So these men and women are going to take 20 years of law enforcement experience and go work where? Security at malls, casino's, for private investigations firms and for lawyers. The public loses all that experience and knowledge to these other jobs. By hiring retired officers we are bringing that experience back to the streets. Now I have never hired anyone who is retired from our agency or else where without following the letter of the law. People who retire must leave their jobs for 90 days before being eligible for rehire. Those in city, state and other government agencies who have skirted this law have created a feeding ground for those who would like to end the rehiring practice all together.

I have touched on why law enforcement needs to be able to keep and rehire experienced officers but what about non law enforcement? The thing I find funny is that the politicians who are now speaking out about the practice have themselves or through their directors hired hundreds of retired government employees who are past retirees. In the last year at least 1/3 of the officers I have hired are retirees. The Governor is speaking out on the practice yet he alone could have easily set policies which could have restricted the practice in state government. Many times in city, county and state government the work is plenty and the employees are few. People become specialized in their fields and because everyone has their jobs to do, others do not get the training and experience needed to take their place when they retire. It is in these specialized positions that the public will suffer when the experience is lost.

In the private sector the incentive to stay on is done through stock options, bonuses, and retention incentives. None of these are available in government so rehire of experienced personnel is one of the few options. We need to reign in abuses and make governments stick to the rules, but to eliminate the rehire option is a detriment to government. At the very least we need to keep an exemption for hard to fill positions such as teachers, nurses, fire fighters, and law enforcement. I only wish other politicians who know and understand why rehire is a necessary option would take their finger out of the wind and explain to the public the benefits and reign in the negatives.


Anonymous said...

HI Sheriff,

I have another option to solve your problem of hiring. Change the retirement requirement to 30 years. Why not? This will solve your problem because you will keep these officers longer. Heck they want to double dip so there is no reason not to. I agree with you that 20 years is a very short time, and the community would be better served by having our public safety folks working longer.

What do you think? The reason I bring this up is because the double dipping partial repeal is now done, no sense crying in our soup, but increasing the retirement requirement is something you can start working on for the next session.

Is this a good idea?

Sheriff Greg Solano said...

This may be a necessary evil. There are two thoughts on the matter. When the 20 year retirement was first proposed and passed the thinking was that police work was a young mans (and Women's) game. The physical aspects and long odd hours were tough on you. However new tools like tasers, better restraints, more backup have made things a little safer. People are now living longer and working later in years than ever before. On the other hand the great retirement is one big selling point on getting people to become officers. Until the last 10 years the retirement attraction was greater than the pay which was pretty dismal. The truth is that while I have 9 or 10 retirees working in the Sheriff's Office we have only hired 2 in the last 7 years so many actually do retire and do not come back. All but one of our retirees make less than 40,000 a year so these are not the high salaried 100,000 a year people you see on Larry Barker expose news stories. The real fear is that increasing the years to retire will decrease interest in wanting to become an officer, leading to further shortages. There could also be increased costs as injuries and insurance premiums rise with a combined higher average age for officers. Unfortunately legislatures went with the wind on this issue and threw the baby out with the bath water. When the media begins running stories on the shortage of officers or officers start getting hurt and lawsuits entail the legislature will have their finger on the pulse and reconsider exemptions for law enforcement. If not then we will be looking for other ideas including yours.