Yesterday I got a call from an officer I hadn’t seen or talked to in at least 25 years. Sure, we are Facebook friends, but that’s not really the same. He lives in Las Vegas and is happily retired for some time. Later I went out for a cup of coffee and met another fellow retired officer. We chatted over a cup for at least an hour.
The officer I spoke to on the phone was one I had worked with often as a recruit. He’d even worked for my father years before. I’ll never forget after our roll call the first time we were to work together he told me “I worked for your father. He was all right, I liked him. I reserve my opinion on you until the end of the tour.” I appreciated that because I wanted to be judged on my own merit, not my father’s. Three and a half decades later we are still good friends and I know I can still count on him to cover my back.
The second retired officer I worked for back when he was a new sergeant and several years later when I was the new sergeant and he was the new lieutenant. We sat back and enjoyed reminiscing about old friends and telling war stories.
That is how I spend much of my time when I am not writing. Between working on my science fiction series and my articles for Law Enforcement Today I spend at least forty to fifty hours a week at the keyboard. The reason I’m able to do this is that I have a good pension that I paid into for thirty years. I enjoy being able to live like this.
This financial freedom allows me the chance to do what I want. This does not allow me to let my guard down. State politicians, as well as local city officials, would love to abandon the pension system. They are trying to duck a debt they incurred. They are the first to call these pensions extras, gifts, hand-outs, and perks. The fact is that these pensions usually are funded by the officers, and require the local government or state to contribute a percentage towards the fund. The fund managers are to then invest the money collected and pay the pensions from that fund.
Most mayors love to tell the voters that the police and fire pensions are a burden on the taxpayers. They never mention the millions spent to plant tulips in the center of roadways each year.
They also never mention that the money they are required to contribute is part of our salary. Imagine how the voters would feel if their employer announces they are going to cut all salaries 15% so they can put flowers around the building. Sure, it’s simplified but that is pretty much what is happening.
So, what can be done about it? First off, every officer needs to start attending their union meetings. I attended one FOP meeting as a police officer in thirteen years. It wasn’t until I was a sergeant that I began attending the PBPA meetings and taking an interest. Later as a lieutenant, I became the president of the Lieutenants PBPA unit for six years.
I finally realized how important it was to get involved in the pension issues. Each officer needs to be able to become familiar with their pensions laws. Union administrations change with each election. It’s your responsibility to keep them hard at work in your interests.
As a young officer, I got busy with side jobs and raising a family. I assumed the old timers would keep an eye on the pension and union. Shame on me for thinking that way. I was allowing the city to deduct a percentage of my paycheck without considering what was being done with it. Duh, that is stupid. I assumed the pensions would always be there and I needn’t worry. Look around people, that is changing. Politicians are working their tail off to spend your pension money.
If you don’t step up to the plate now you won’t be able to enjoy your retirement like I can, and you should. Become active in your union even if all you do is attend a meeting. Read through the literature you get from the union and pension board. If you don’t, thirty years from now you’ll retire from one hard job to another hard job rather than sitting back to chat with your old friends.
Robert Weisskopf is a retired Chicago police lieutenant. In thirty years, he rose from police officer to sergeant, to lieutenant, serving every role in patrol with 18 months detailed to the Department of Housing and Urban Development leading a team for narcotics enforcement. He became a member of the Lieutenants Union and served as its’ president for six years negotiating two contracts. He also served as vice president of the Illinois Police Benevolent Protective Association. He’s a divorced father with three sons.