Incentive for city police veterans Delayed retirement: Program may prompt more officers to stay on the job beyond 20 years.

June 24, 1996

WHILE MUCH of the public's attention has been on an early retirement plan that could drastically reduce the municipal workforce and save the city millions of dollars, Baltimore should also benefit from a program that will have the opposite effect. The Deferred Retirement Option Plan is aimed at the number of police officers and fire fighters who work in Baltimore only until they can retire, collect pension benefits and move on to similar but less stressful jobs in one of the suburbs ringing the city.

Eligible for retirement after only 20 years, many veterans in their 40s leave the police force at that point. Chief Thomas C. Frazier says one-third of his officers have less than five years of experience. The situation was exacerbated by changes he made upon becoming chief 2 1/2 years ago, including a controversial assignment rotation plan that allowed younger officers to take a turn on more coveted beats. Veteran officers said the new chief was trying to get rid of them.

The DROP program is Chief Frazier's way of saying he wants seasoned officers. Instead of retiring after 20 years, participants continue working for at least three more years. The monthly retirement benefits they would have collected in those extra years are invested. When the officer finally retires, he receives the monthly pension payment he would have received after working 20 years -- plus a nest egg from the interest-bearing sums invested in his name each month while a DROP participant.

Mr. Frazier is to be commended for innovations such as DROP that have reduced the department's annual attrition rate from 10 percent to zero. He says the department has no current vacancies among the officer corps. Without increasing the size of the force he has managed to put more uniformed cops on the street by hiring civilians to handle the clerical jobs officers once performed. Cutting down on unexcused sick leave has also meant more officers available for duty each day.

That's important in a city trying to make community policing work. It's a labor intensive concept, requiring enough officers to take care of criminals and interact with the law-abiding public. Baltimore officers, for example, are taking over the recreation department's function in several neighborhoods through the new Police Athletic League. That's fighting crime, too.

Pub Date: 6/24/96

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