Police force departures expected

Improved pension might lure officers into retirement

4 captains plan to go in '02

Executive approves additional hires to cover staff losses

November 11, 2001|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Police Department is expected to lose an array of senior officers early in 2002 thanks to an improved retirement package, which will arrive with the new year.

But Chief Wayne Livesay said he is prepared for a wave of departures, expected to include a number of captains, the third-highest rank on the force.

The pension plan, which was approved by the County Council last winter, allows police to retire after 25 years of service with 75 percent of their salary. It goes into effect Jan. 1, and four of the six captains have lined up to take advantage of the lucrative deal, which many have called the best police pension in the area.

Livesay said he is preparing to lose one captain Jan. 1 and three more Feb. 1. Retirees are required to give 60 days' notice for the first few months of the retirement plan to avoid an exodus.

"We made adjustments for this a long time ago," Livesay said. "We're ready."

As of Jan. 1, the department will have an authorized strength of 356, with 56 officers eligible for retirement. Twenty-four of those will have between 20 and 24 years of service; 23 will have between 25 and 29 years; and nine will have 30 years or more. Within the next few weeks, the chief will add a seventh captain position to head communications.

To prepare for retirements, County Executive James N. Robey, a former police chief, gave the department, now at full strength, approval to hire five more people than it normally would, Livesay said.

A total of 24 police recruits will enter the force before the end of April. Livesay said he tried to synchronize the classes to coincide with impending retirements.

Howard County Police Academy Class No. 23 graduated Tuesday, and those officers are already on the job.

"Police officers today are much different than police officers of 15 years ago," Livesay told the graduates during their ceremony at River Hill High School. "But public expectations remain the same."

Robey also spoke at the police graduation. "From an old cop to a new cop: We'll be there to support you," he told the graduates.

So far, he has. Robey granted police pay raises totaling 26 percent during the past two fiscal years and approved the bolstered pension plan.

The new plan allows Howard police to retire after 20 years at half-pay, to receive 75 percent after 25 years and 80 percent after 30 years. Formerly, the plan gave police 39 percent after 20 years, 57.5 percent after 25 years, and 65 percent after 30 years.

Livesay acknowledges that the department will lose longtime and high-ranking officers in the next few months.

"But, at the same time, we've gotten to hold on to some people because they knew a better package was coming down the pike," said county police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn.

Add to that the 12 Maryland Police Corps recruits earmarked for Howard County who graduate at the end of the month.

Some Howard police officers have been shuffled from assignment to assignment in recent months to give them a taste of the various aspects of the department's operations, Livesay said.

"There is a method to my madness," Livesay said.

Firefighters also have an improved pension package.

Starting Jan. 1, they will be able to retire at half-pay once they reach 20 years of service and at 70 percent after 30 years.

Fire Chief Joseph Herr said his department might see additional retirements because of the pension package, but he said it would also help attract recruits.

"This puts us on a much better playing field," he said. "People were leaving here, but now we're pretty competitive."

In a department of about 300, 34 firefighters have more than 20 years of service.

As of last week, none of the firefighters had given the 60 days' notice.

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