Law enforcement officers and their departments train and incorporate new training when situations arise that completely change the paradigm of normalcy. The North Hollywood Bank shootout is one of those incidents. Those of us in law enforcement, both active and retired are facing a paradigm shift, one that many Americans working in the private sector have learned the hard way. We who work in the public sector are going to learn that the only things that are guaranteed in life are death and taxes. Retirement, even medical retirement, though supposedly guaranteed and foolproof, aren’t. Governments, no matter what form they are, do not keep their promises when the rubber meets the road.
Prichard, Alabama is a case in point. In the 1980s and 1990s, crime rose, much of the middle class and 2 major employers left, costing both workers and revenue, Prichard was left devastated. The city declared bankruptcy for the first time in 1999. Struggling along, Prichard hired an actuary in 2004 to analyze and summarize their pension plan. The report concluded that the pension funds would be depleted as of 2009. True to the report, the fund was empty in 2009.
The city of Prichard tried to file under Chapter 9 bankruptcy, but failed to qualify as they had no bonds, one of the qualifications for that type of bankruptcy. While the case was being litigated, pensioners of the city, firefighters, police officers and other city retirees did not receive their pensions for almost 2 years. The case was finally settled out of court with pensioners receiving one third of what they were promised.
Recently in the news is the city of Stockton, California. It is currently in mediation with creditors to determine whether to go into bankruptcy. Stockton is not the only city, or state, that is in financial trouble. Central Falls, Rhode Island declared bankruptcy in 2011 when the pension fund of firefighters and police officers nearly ran out of money. The state refused to assist and the city was forced to negotiate like Prichard did with pensioners receiving sharp cuts in their pensions.
More ominous is, according to The Pew Center, 34 states have underfunded pensions. Although many of these states are already addressing the issue, four states, Illinois, Kentucky, Connecticut and Rhode Island are less than 55 percent funded, 25 percent under the 80 percent recommended for a healthy pension fund. Illinois made their situation worse, diverting funds from their pension fund to cover budget shortfalls. In 2005 and 2006 alone, more than $2.3 billion was diverted by the state legislature. They are currently funded at 45 percent and continuing to fail to deal with the spending issues the state faces.
As one can imagine, there is a whole lot of finger pointing going on. Public sector unions, George Bush, Obama, the recession, the rich, Wall Street and a few more culprits are on the list. I would place it squarely on the shoulders of most of our politicians, as well as the voting public. It resides with politicians that are more concerned with passing out favors to ensure re-election, lining their pockets along the way and voters for not holding politicians accountable for financial responsibilities or failing to understand that there is no such thing as “free money”. Most disgusting is the blatantly dishonest accounting and budget maneuvers that have been done to hide from the public the full scope of the $3.9 trillion, yes trillion, hole in pension funding. This must be dealt with through the political process for the rest of our lives, but it doesn’t deal with the situation at hand.
If responsible political choices are made, there is a likelihood that this situation will resolve more favorably than that of Prichard or Central Falls. Some in unions will push the issue, demand their “rights” and strike, have “Blue Flu” and the like, but the old saying goes “you can’t get blood out of a turnip”.
It’s worthwhile to remember that many Americans working for private companies have lost all pensions as well, not to mention, a crushing tax burden on top of that. Many who tried to build their own retirements through saving lost almost half of their value. We cannot rely on the federal government to provide a bailout of either states or individually. Those who have been disabled or medically retired on Social Security Disability face that program to run out of funds in 2016. Medicare is not far behind.
Understanding the situation we face, a saying my grandparents, who faced the Great Depression, comes to mind. “No sense in crying over spilt milk.” The damage has been done, the question to ask is what can be done to mitigate the impact to us in our daily lives and then to deal with the fallout on the next generation. Rethinking our lifestyles, financial decisions and future plans is the beginning of lessening the impact from the painful choices that will either be well planned by responsible representatives or forced without mercy by a financial collapse if there are no adults in the room.
Having a plan for the worst case scenario is a skill we are taught thoroughly throughout our careers as law enforcement officers. Utilizing it in our personal lives is a practical, pragmatic and effective response to the situation, rather than ignoring storm clouds on the horizon or engaging in self or socially destructive knee jerk reactions.
Understandably, potential threats to pensions we have worked for makes for strong emotional reactions and should potential become actual threats, outrage is not unreasonable. At the same time, what makes this country so exceptional is the American spirit of overcoming every adversity no matter the odds.
From the Revolutionary War soldiers enduring the Valley Forge winter with little food, little warmth and great suffering, to immigrants of all nationalities enduring discrimination, poverty to, at last, make their way. We have the Greatest Generation who survived the Great Depression, achieving through that suffering the strength of character to endure battles like D Day and the Battle of the Bulge and win. Learning their lessons of sacrificing, enduring, helping each other, thinking out of the box and refusing to give up, we can positively influence the trajectory the nation is facing.
Just as there were a few faithful soldiers during our first war who endured throughout the war, even without pay, because they were needed, should things go sideways, we will be needed. Let’s be prepared.
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Juli Adcock began her career in law enforcement with the Escambia County Florida Sheriff’s Office as a patrol deputy until she was injured in a riot situation. She transferred to Judicial Security and retired in 1998. Juli pursued career advancement training with an emphasis on officer survival, interviews and interrogation. She worked with a local Rape Crisis Center and in victim’s advocacy, complementing her college course work in psychology. She currently resides in New Mexico and is an instructor with The Appleseed Project (www.appleseedinfo.org). The Appleseed Project is a rifle marksmanship clinic teaching the fundamentals of firing an accurate round downrange every 3 to 4 seconds, out to 500 yards, as well as American history. She has trained military personnel at White Sands Missile Range who are certifying as Squad Designated Marksmen. Juli instructs basic handgun skills to new gun owners in preparation for responsible personal gun ownership and the Concealed Carry class for the State of New Mexico. She can be reached at [email protected] or through Law Enforcement Today.