Trading five years for 12 hours? Longer workday doesn't seem worth earlier police retirements.

February 26, 1997

HOWARD COUNTY COUNCIL members are giving due scrutiny to a proposal that would, in effect, trade a long-term benefit for what may be a passing fad in police scheduling.

The benefit is five years of veteran police experience that would be lost under a proposal to allow Howard officers to receive full retirement benefits after 20 years instead of the current 25 years. The council is being asked to trade that, costly though it is, for police acceptance of a questionable fad sweeping the country: the 12-hour workday for officers.

Firefighters also are seeking the 20-and-out plan. Alas, these proposals could be the most one-sided trades since Cincinnati sent Frank Robinson to the Orioles in 1965.

Officials for Howard's police union argue that a 20-year requirement for full pension benefits is standard in the Baltimore area. True, but some jurisdictions are moving in the opposite direction, such as Anne Arundel, which extended full pension eligibility for new hires to 25 years. Also, these jurisdictions may suffer when skilled officers retire before their 50th or even their 40th birthdays.Union leaders and the Ecker administration say that moving to 12-hour workdays will finance the earlier retirement. They contend that the schedule would provide more savings by having fewer shift changes over the same 40-hour workweek. Departments throughout the country are trying 12-hour shifts, but results are mixed.

William W. Stenzel, director of the School of Police Staff and Command at the Northwestern University Traffic Institute, has found that employees like the schedule and that it gives continuity to some investigations. But police administrators have encountered problems with scheduling flexibility and there is scant evidence of savings, Dr. Stenzel added.

The county would be unwise to give up five years of experience -- a change it is not apt to win back easily and that has long-term costs -- for something that may prove impractical. The council must consider this issue with dispassion, despite the emotional argument by the firefighter union's heroic president, Jeffrey Loomis, who almost drowned while trying to save a life last month. In fact, county residents lose when veterans such as Mr. Loomis walk away with their experience too soon.

Pub Date: 2/26/97

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