Chief Robey's challenge Howard County: Police leader has a tougher job retaining officers after pension feud.

September 05, 1997

POLICE UNION OFFICIALS in Howard County say their members are leaving the force because the County Council this year rejected a proposal to improve pension benefits for officers.

That is only part of the story. Although 12 of the 26 officers who have left over the past 15 months went to law enforcement agencies elsewhere, others have either retired or moved on to other careers.

Indeed, a dozen officers have left for other departments, and more may follow. This is an unusually high number, but so-called lateral moves by police officers from one jurisdiction to another is hardly unusual. Departments in dire need of veterans often dangle enticing benefits.

It is understandable that some officers have left because they believe law enforcement agencies elsewhere can offer things that Howard County can't.

Some are leaving for action-packed policing they rarely get in Howard. This is a county, after all, that is fortunate enough not to have more homicides, children caught in the crossfire of battling gangs and gun-toting toughs terrorizing neighborhoods with open-air drug sales. Some might consider Howard police paradise, but others might have gone into police work to effect greater change.

It is conceiveable, too, that some officers are flying the coop only to pursue better retirement benefits. Some jurisdictions allow officers to retire with full pension benefits after 20 years of service. Taxpayers in these subdivisions diminish the return they get from their investment in training officers. Howard, reasonably, requires officers to serve 25 years before they can retire with full benefits, or half of their salary.

Unfortunately, the police union was too upset with the county council's refusal to provide 20-year full retirements to consider a fair counter-offer to improve pension pay.

The county has built a strong police force with 329 authorized positions through a combination of recruiting and training. The force is weakened when officers leave in the prime of their careers.

Police Chief James N. Robey has a major challenge to recruit and retain good officers to keep his department strong. Union displeasure over the pension plan makes this more difficult, but hardly impossible.

Pub Date: 9/05/97

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