Police replace several leaders

Pension plan prompts commanders, others to retire from department

`We're going to settle down'

Younger officers tapped to fill leadership roles

Howard County

April 05, 2004|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN STAFF

Howard County Police Chief G. Wayne Livesay hopes he's seen an end to retirement parties, at least for a while.

Since a sweeter pension package kicked in two years ago, Livesay has stood by as 35 officers retired from the force, many of them high-ranking commanders.

The vast majority took their pensions and left for jobs elsewhere. Maj. William Jeff Spaulding, one of the chief's two deputies, left in December to become Westminster's police chief.

"I'd say 95 percent are going to other employment," Livesay said. "It's just not lucrative to stay here for more than 30 years."

For the past two years, a younger crop of officers has been steadily promoted to fill leadership positions, including the department's first female minority captain. In an interview last week, the chief called the changes "a mixed blessing." He lamented the loss of institutional knowledge from officers' retirement but welcomed the advancement opportunities for others.

"It was a lot of change over a short period of time that concerned me, but it didn't overly concern me," Livesay said. "I'm glad we're going to settle down for a while."

Livesay and police union officials sought the improved retirement plan to keep the county force competitive with other jurisdictions and ensure that officers stay longer.

The pension for officers who retire after 20 years is 50 percent of their pay. After 25 years, they receive 75 percent of their pay, 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.

Starting this spring, officers with 25 years of service will be able to draw their pension and put it in an interest-bearing account. After an additional four years of service, they are eligible to receive the lump-sum amount from their accounts, said James F. Fitzgerald, the police union president.

Staying competitive

"We want to be competitive," said Fitzgerald, who noted that the Deferred Retirement Option Plan is "cost-neutral" to the county. The plan "holds your senior people in the department. We can't afford to have more senior people retire."

In recent years, area police departments have needed to boost retirement benefits to retain top officers and revise hiring practices to recruit new ones. The Baltimore Police Department also has a deferred retirement plan, while the Baltimore County Police Department plans to begin one this summer, a spokesman said. The Westminster Police Department increased the take-home pensions for retired officers last year, while the Harford County Sheriff's Office has moved to year-round recruiting to rebuild ranks after losing 41 employees, mainly to retirement, over the past three years.

Changes in command

In Howard County, Livesay knew the "enhanced" retirement plan begun two years ago would shake up the department. The exodus has caused a ripple effect through the chain of command in the department's administrative and operations commands.

Maj. Gary Gardner, who ran the department's Southern District patrol, was promoted to take over the entire administration command after Spaulding left. And within the administration command, two new captains were recently assigned to head the management services and information and technology management bureaus.

Few top shakeups have affected the department's Northern District patrol. But the department's Southern District patrol has seen a number of top management retirements and promotions. In the past 14 months, the patrol has changed captains three times, Livesay said.

New opportunities

The retirements have opened up opportunities for others, Livesay said.

For instance, Capt. Steven Prozeralik, a 25-year veteran, retired in February after heading the department's Criminal Investigations Bureau. CIB includes more than a dozen units and sections that focus on such areas as violent crime, child abuse, auto theft, robbery, and vice and narcotics.

After Prozeralik left, Livesay promoted Capt. Tara D. Nelson, an African-American who is the first minority woman to make captain in the department. Nelson previously served as a lieutenant in charge of the department's education and training division.

"It's important where we place people, it's important who we promote," Livesay said. "One of my priorities is that the department has to be diverse to represent the community we serve."

Serving the community

In her nearly 19 years at the department, Nelson has worked in patrol, media and community relations, criminal investigations, management services, and information management. In an interview last week, Nelson, 41, indicated that she is aware that she's helping to blaze a path for women and minorities in the Police Department.

"They've never had a female commander over there," Nelson said, referring to CIB. "I guess I'm setting some milestones here, and I'm looking forward to that."

Sun staff writers Lane Harvey Brown and Athima Chansanchai contributed to this article.

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