There has been a great deal of talk about the salaries and retirement benefits for peace officers in California. And no one, least of all me, will suggest that the men and women in uniform are not being treated better than they have been in the past. However, the job isn't easy, and the compensation is not enough to make it simple to recruit reliable candidates willing to do the job.
There are currently more than ten thousand vacant peace officer positions in California. And we can't fill them, even in this depressed economy, with an unemployment rate of 11.6 percent.
A cop will tell you why the line isn't shifting from the unemployment line to the sheriff substation or the police station. It is a tough damn job that is both physically and emotionally punishing. Look around, as the prisons empty and the schools fail to graduate at-risk kids, the streets are not going to be any friendlier.
A cop begins every day of his career knowing his life might not be immediately at risk, but the potential for conflict in an eight hour shift is almost 100 percent.
A cop knows that every day they are going to be in a position where they are protecting someone who is being targeted for violence, or the color of their uniform and the authority they represent makes them a target.
Imagine responding to a call of an automobile accident, a mutilated body, after a drunk driver got into a horrific crash, his body not secured into his car with a seatbelt.
Imagine finding yourself caught in a stand off between teenage gang bangers armed with weaponry that outmatches your own.
Imagine waking up and going to work and knowing that everyday you are going to be dealing with an emotionally exhausting, potentially life threatening scene like this.
As an active member of the San Diego Sheriff's Department, I have done this everyday for the last 30 years. And these are all scenes that the more than 62,000 members of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, PORAC, face everyday.
Everyday we California peace officers don bullet-proof vests, tasers, batons, and guns to protect ourselves on the job. And the risk to our lives, everyday, is real.
Dozens of California cops are assaulted on the job daily. And every year California adds an average of fifteen names of officers killed in the line of duty to the California Peace Officers Memorial.
Being a California peace officer is an extremely tough job, but it is a job that must be done. Especially now, in an economic downturn, because we know the crime rate skyrockets.
So how do we fill these vacancies? For all of the risk to their emotional, physical and family lives of California peace officers, what is the compensation? Decent benefits and a decent retirement. That's our sales hook. Peace officers consistently give up bigger salaries in trade for a solid benefit and retirement package.
And you might be surprised to hear the reality of what the retirement compensation numbers are: 75 percent of California peace officers' retirement compensation is less than $36,000 a year. Oh yeah, and most don't collect Social Security like everyone else.
This isn't outlandish, this isn't absurd. Most Californians would say that this is well-deserved.
But anti-pension critics are using pension abuses by a few to attack the modest pensions of hard-working peace officers.
Let's set the facts straight: less than 1 percent of retired public employees receive benefit levels exceeding $100,000. And PORAC believes that efforts by some of these high income earners to deliberately spike their retirement benefits should be stopped.
We are all in this together. Let's continue to work together at the bargaining table to find solutions. Abuses can be addressed without attacking the retirement security of the vast majority of hard-working peace officers.
Let's give California cops the retirement pensions that they earn, so that we can attract the numbers of peace officers that California needs. Let's protect those who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect us.