Dennis Schrader explains his vote on pension planThe...

LETTERS

November 01, 1998

Dennis Schrader explains his vote on pension plan

The Howard County police officers' union recently took out a full page ad in the Columbia Flier criticizing my record on law enforcement. The crux of the ad had little to do with my commitment to fighting crime in Howard County, but rather took me to task for not supporting the police union's demand for an enhanced taxpayer-funded 20-year retirement plan.

In 1997, then-Police Chief Jim Robey approached the Howard County Council and county executive with a supposedly cost-neutral plan to boost the retirement benefit available to police officers to 50 percent of their salary after just 20 years of service.

The trade-off for officers not lucky enough to be of retirement age was the now-maligned 12-hour shift. The police union has assailed me for voting against this plan, but I am proud to defend my decision on several grounds.

First, when recruitment of qualified officers appears to be such a problem, it seemed foolhardy to encourage early retirements by men and women in the prime of their lives and at the height of their careers.

Second, a 50 percent-of-salary retirement benefit would have placed police officers in a class by themselves compared with other county employees.

Third, and most important, it would have been grossly unfair to ask the taxpayers of Howard County to fund a retirement plan that allowed able-bodied officers to retire in their 40s, while the taxpayers footing the bill are working well into their 60s. My vote was the right vote for the citizens of Howard County and the police force, and I would make it again.

What the police union fails to mention is that the County Council did, in fact, approve a very generous benefits package for its police officers last year. In exchange for instituting the 12-hour shift, which we were told was strongly endorsed by rank and file officers, the council approved a benefits package which will provide for a 39 percent retirement benefit after 20 years of service, a 57.5 percent retirement benefit after 25 years, and a 65 percent benefit after 30 years on the job. These benefits are far more generous than those available to any other county employee, including teachers.

Now, less than seven months since it was initiated in March, the 12-hour shift appears to be a failure. Since they work just three days every other week, officers are often unavailable to follow up on investigations. Since they are so tired, they are putting off responding to nonemergency calls. And since they are so tired, they are missing more work and causing more overtime to be scheduled -- sometimes resulting in shifts 18 hours long. This is unfair to the officers and their families, and potentially dangerous to the public.

It seems to me that what the public wants and deserves is more police on the streets. What we seem to have gotten out of this deal is just the opposite. While the enhanced retirement benefits certainly benefited Mr. Robey when he left the police force just months after the new contract was negotiated, they do nothing for the beat officer dragging himself through a 12-hour day.

If elected county executive, I will re-examine the wisdom of the 12-hour shift and will not hesitate to scrap it if it has proved to be a mistake. And if that requires hiring more police officers, so be it.

I appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight.

Dennis R. Schrader

Columbia

The writer is the Republican candidate for Howard County executive.

Female officer applauds Robey

I had to respond to an Oct. 21 article ("Robey record under attack") since I had the pleasure of working with James Robey from 1979 to 1983, when he was commander of the patrol division of the Howard County Police Department.

As a young, college-aged female police cadet, I received respect, guidance and support from Mr. Robey as I explored the possibility of a law enforcement career. This was during an era when there were relatively few women officers in the department. Not once in the four years I spent working with Mr. Robey, did I observe his treatment of women officers, including myself, to be other than respectful, fair and "above board."

My police officer friends report that Dennis R. Schrader has resorted to schoolyard name-calling and criticism of the police department while campaigning door-to-door; he was unaware that citizens he was visiting were police officers. Yet now he expresses a newfound concern about the department's future.

I intend to vote for Mr. Robey, not only for his views regarding public safety, but for his overall sense of fairness and his balanced perspective.

Elizabeth A. Williams

Elkridge

Ugly campaigning from Todd Arterburn

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