Police pensions should not be used as a bargaining chip.
Last week marked the somber anniversary of the deadliest police event since 9/11, which took place last summer in Dallas. It was commemorated with prayer, a monument unveiling, and the further reduction of police pensions.
As domestic terror threats and civil unrest appears to be on the rise, a strong police force is more needed than ever. Yet, the Dallas Police Department (DPD) reports the lowest numbers in a decade, losing almost 700 officers. The DPD has been struggling to hire and train new recruits quickly enough to keep up.
This steady decline is not without good reason. The average salary of a new DPD officer is around $42,900, while other suburbs in the metroplex, such as Plano, 15 miles to its north, pays over $60,000. Conversely, Dallas has a 86 percent higher crime rate than the rest of the nation, while Plano has a 32 percent lower crime rate than the national average. Dallas not only needs more police officers, it needs to give them a reason to stay.
The size of Dallas’s police force can make it difficult to significantly raise its officers’ salaries. But one way it can incentivize new recruits and retain older ones from seeking better offers elsewhere is through its pension program. Considering generally low police salaries, the prospect of a steady financial future attracts officers. Additionally, pensions are easier to plan for than raising salaries.
Even disregarding the moral argument – that cutting the pension of people who risk their lives for us every day, feels inherently wrong – cutting pensions is dangerous to citizens’ safety and actually wastes more money in the long term than it seems to save.
The Dallas Police have maintained a steady decline in crime, until recently. The homicide rate has increased since 2014. This trend coincides with that of the DPD departure rate and with pension cuts and reforms. Police Chief David Pughes agrees that the loss of pension packages have driven out many of his officers. However in April, Dallas City Mayor Mike Rawlings commented that he would not support a bill in the House Pensions committee to save the pension system.
Without the support of one of the people he’s been charged to protect, Chief Pughes has been forced to seek other alternatives. “I’m actually excited about the possibility of bringing retirees back in whatever capacity they can work,” Pughes said. He also went on to say, “At a certain point, we just need bodies, warm bodies who are willing to serve our communities and protect us in a way that needs to happen.”
Without a feasible way to bring back officers, the attrition rate will only continue to rise. Pensions seem to be the best way to fix this problem. And though cutting these pensions seems to be a method to save money, it may actually be doing the opposite.
For the 2015-2016 period, Dallas spent $20,039,222 out of a nearly half a billion dollar budget on Police Academy and Inservice training; it hired 112 new officers. This means that Dallas spent over $175,000 towards training its officers. It would take the average Dallas police officer, 3-4 year’s salary to reach that amount. After spending so much to train its officers, it is illogical to force them to leave due to insecure financial situations and let other cities reap the benefits of well trained Dallas officers.
The economics of not saving the pension program for Dallas does not compute. By not reviving this essential program, Dallas wastes its own money and does a disservice to its citizens by indirectly contributing to the rising crime rate.
Unfortunately, this problem isn’t localized to Dallas alone; cities across the country such as San Jose and Memphis face similar issues. However, in the wake of the anniversary of the deadliest police shooting in a single incident since 1950, perhaps Mayor Rawlings and other state legislatures could be implored to reconsider their stance and reform police pensions. Dallas has long been a symbol of excellent police work. Let it become the symbol for excellent gratitude for police work.