Pension plum

June 25, 2007

When Deputy Baltimore Police Commissioner Marcus L. Brown left the agency to head the Maryland Transportation Authority police last January, the 42-year-old didn't leave empty-handed. And we're not talking a gold watch.

Relying on a little-used provision in the city pension law, the city guaranteed Mr. Brown a full pension - $55,500 a year - even though he didn't qualify by age or years of service. City officials say the deal was worked out a few years ago when Mayor Martin O'Malley promoted Mr. Brown to the No. 2 spot in the agency. Such blatant manipulation of the pension law undermines the credibility of the system and Mr. Brown's exemplary service - and it forced the police commissioner to falsely portray the terms of Mr. Brown's departure.

All of that may be legal - but it isn't right.

The pension law provides for full benefits if a police officer or firefighter has been "removed" from his or her job. It was intended to protect city workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. That was certainly not the case with Mr. Brown, who joined the department in 1992. After becoming governor, Mr. O'Malley hired him as chief of the transportation authority police, where he makes $127,500 a year.

Based on the earlier agreement, Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm reported to pension officials that Mr. Brown had been "removed" from his job, which made him eligible for the pension even though he was shy of the 20 years of service needed to get a full pension and not yet 50 years old.

The pension board approved Mr. Brown's application for benefits last week. The "removal" clause has been invoked less than a dozen times by past commissioners, usually to force the retirement of a troubled officer, but the city's inspector general should review pension records to ensure the provision is not being abused.

Like many talented, ambitious professionals, Mr. Brown was recruited for a new job, and he took it. That was his choice, but it shouldn't have cost the citizens of Baltimore the price of a pension.

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