Chief eyes better benefits for police Robey, Ecker trying to revamp officers' retirement package

September 16, 1997|By Jill Hudson | Jill Hudson,SUN STAFF

Howard County Police Chief James N. Robey said yesterday that he and County Executive Charles I. Ecker are trying to revamp the county's retirement package, aiming to stem the tide of police officers who are leaving the county for other area departments.

"We need a better retirement package here, no doubt about it," he said in an interview at police headquarters in Ellicott City. "Police officers are going to go where they can get the best deal.

"And right now," Robey said, "that's not in Howard County."

For the past month, Ecker and Robey have been talking to the police officers' union about a retirement package that would offer the officers 57 percent full pay after 25 years of service and 65 percent pay after 30 years of service.

"We're taking a look at the officers' benefits right now," Robey said. "I'm giving the county executive information on how we can be able to compete with other jurisdictions."

As it stands now, Howard police officers can retire at 50 percent pay after 25 years of service, the same as Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties. Prince George's County, Baltimore City and Baltimore County have 20-year retirement benefits.

Robey hopes that a new retirement package for Howard's 329 JTC authorized Officers would keep patrol officers from jumping ship to larger, better-paying jurisdictions.

According to police officials, only 12 of the 26 officers who have left within the past 15 months have gone to work in other jurisdictions.

John Paparazzo, the police union president, has said 15 more officers are looking to move to other police departments by the end of the year. Officer Jerry Heyn, who left the force last week to join the U.S. Secret Service, believes the number may be as high as 20.

Though the numbers may vary, the results are the same, Robey admits.

"The issue isn't that there are officers leaving this department," he continued. "There are always officers who leave the %o department. What's at issue now is that the number of officers who are leaving is at an all-time high."

Ecker said he is willing to work with Robey and the police union. But he's not convinced a new retirement package would make much of a difference.

Only two officers of the 26 who have left the force since June 1996 have "gone to an area where there's a better retirement system, as far as I know," Ecker said. "This turnover that we're having is not any more than normal. This sort of thing happens every year."

Last April, the Howard County Council rejected an enhanced retirement benefits package that would have allowed police officers and firefighters to retire after 20 years in exchange for scheduling changes and other concessions estimated to be worth more than $2 million a year to the county.

The council's decision to reject the proposal was "the fuse that lit the powder keg," Robey said. "Since then, morale among [patrol officers] has been extremely low."

But many Howard officers who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal from the department's command staff say that low morale stems also from other issues. They say the command staff is too removed from the rank and file.

Robey challenged those accusations, saying morale could be helped if officers would "take advantage" of his "open-door policy, which has been in place since I became chief.

Ecker downplayed the issue.

"Morale is a hard thing to get your arms around," Ecker said. "Some days my morale is low. I look in the mirror and I find that, 'Hey, it's because of me.' "

Pub Date: 9/16/97

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