Scare tactics rolled out in debate E-mail
Written by Anthony F. Wiener   

Editor’s note: The author is responding to an article alleging that police officers get too much in the way of benefits when they retire.
Seth Grossman’s commentary, “Cap pension payments to relieve budget burden,” represents the kind of uninformed scare tactic that complicates the debate on the health of New Jersey’s pension system. As president of New Jersey’s largest law enforcement organization, which has more than 33,000 members in service to state, county and local law enforcement agencies, it is necessary to point out several of Grossman’s errors in assumptions and to express why law enforcement officers in the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS) need to be excluded from any pension and benefit reforms.

Grossman uses the example of a retired Margate police officer to describe the “problems” with our pension system, as if this officer’s service as a role model to the children he worked with is something not worthy of respect. We all pray that officers have a productive career that serves as an example to keep kids away from crime.

Grossman’s point seems to be that because this officer didn’t deal with real danger – which he has no proof of knowing, by the way – that his salary and pension are excessive. It is important to remember that unlike most public employees, law enforcement officers and firefighters are paid not for what they do but for what they may be asked to do. An officer never knows what a day on the street will bring.

There are too many examples of all the officers shot, killed, wounded, injured or mentally scarred from doing their job without hesitation. But unlike the advocates of abolishing our pension system, I don’t see the point in rhetoric since the facts are firmly on our side of the argument: Members of PFRS pay the highest pension contribution at 8.5 percent not only in the state but in the nation. Let’s not forget that for seven years, the state and local governments made no payments to our pension system.

What happened to the hundreds of millions the state and local governments “saved” by not making these critical payments? They spent it. Now that the bill has come due, they have decided to blame us for their fiscal mismanagement. A 401(k) is impossible to impose on law enforcement officers because of the nature of our job.

If we impose this standard, how do you treat widows of officers who die on the job and officers who are permanently disabled? Isn’t an officer’s 25 or 30 years of service protecting our communities worth a fair pension that matches the stresses of the job? Neither the Murphy Commission nor the Joint Legislative Benefits Reform Commission made any call for a two-tiered pension system for PFRS.

You just can’t compare law enforcement to anything that happens in the private sector. Each of us works through the night, weekends, holidays and mandated overtime in dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

Don’t kid yourself into thinking there is anything like a sleepy, crimeless town in New Jersey. Even upscale towns deal with crime and officers face dangers regularly.

Of course, there is much to do to strengthen the pension system, such as ending pension holidays for public employers, prohibiting political appointees and part-timers from getting pension and health benefits and prosecuting those who commit crimes while in public service. But don’t try to scapegoat law enforcement officers who paid for their benefits and who put their lives on the line every day to keep our communities safe.

Anthony F. Wiener is president of the State of New Jersey Police Benevolent Association.

 


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