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The Necessity of Police Pensions

            A number of years ago, I came across an article which, among other things, described the choice to pursue a life of crime as a rational one. Essentially, they perform some sort of mental calculus in which they determine that the benefits (monetary, prestige, etc.) of committing a particular crime (i.e. dealing drugs) outweighs the risks and possible consequences of getting caught. The corollary to this is that the rest of us perform the same kinds of calculus albeit with different decisions and outcomes. Before I go further, I would have to describe three different groups of people. In the first category, we would have average citizens: those who are generally law-abiding, decent people leading ordinary everyday lives. In the second category, I would broadly group people like firefighters, police officers, sheriff's deputies and others in law enforcement, along with those who enlist and serve in our Nation's various armed forces. And, finally, in the third category, I would identify criminals – particularly career criminals and chronic recidivists. 
            I've been a police officer since 2000. Since then, I cannot count the number of times average citizens have told me that they can't imagine doing the job I ( and countless others like me) do. And, the reality is that they're right. They can't imagine what it's like doing the job of public safety. Not only that, but the vast majority of them simply could NOT do what it is that those in public safety or the military do. The main reason for this is that they have performed that very rational calculus and decided that they cannot be the 'rough men' of which George Orwell spoke and who are the reason good people are able to sleep peacefully at night. There are simply too many risks to life, health, well-being and family to countenance entering those very honorable professions. Those who do are, by and large, exceptional in their willingness – among other reasons -  to set aside risk in order to serve their communities or their nation.
            By any normal measure, though, such service is NOT rational. In fact, it's the furthest thing from rational. If the average citizen sat down and asked a police officer to tell you about the worst of the things he or she has seen or done that citizen would likely be absolutely appalled. By the time a typical police officer has put in a decade of service he or she will likely have literally lost count of the number of child abuse cases, the rape victims, the horrific assaults, the broken bodies, and the dead bodies he or she has seen in their career. They've been in countless fights, gotten injured any number of times, they may even have had to shoot or kill someone by then. In short, the men and women who serve their communities by entering public safety professions knowingly give up any kind of physical security for themselves or their families. By any normal measure, this choice would reflect such a deep level of insanity that such people should not be permitted to work in public safety. So, how is this paradox reconciled? By offering public safety employees defined benefit pensions.
            A defined benefit pension is the way that a community gives back to a Law Enforcement Officer or Firefighter. It permits a public safety employee to exchange two or three decades of service - accepting the risk of suffering serious injury or death, enduring physical, emotional and psychic scarring most other people simply cannot endure, facing the risk that they will be among the 40% who will suffer one or more serious sleep disorders, embracing decades in which they give up any semblance of workplace safety or surety  - for a retirement in which their financial well-being is as close to guaranteed as possible, permitting them to enjoy time with family that was sacrificed in their younger years, allowing them to heal as best as they can from the punishment the job has inflicted and to hopefully experience a just reward for all that was sacrificed over the course of their career.
       And so, while countless others argue that defined benefit pensions are not sustainable for any public employee group, I would argue the following: that public safety employees need to be treated as a separate and unique class of public employee as the nature of their jobs are separate and unique. And, I would further argue that providing public safety employees with a defined benefit pension which is responsibly managed and secure is a sane exchange for asking them to do what virtually everyone else would describe as an insane job. And, lastly, I would argue that it is a moral necessity offer a few (hopefully) decades of a secure retirement to reconcile a few decades of service in a career that is the furthest thing from secure. 

3 Comments to The Necessity of Police Pensions:

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