‘Selective scrutiny’ over police, fire pension programs a dangerous game
May 2013 will go down as one of the worst periods in Arizona history when it comes to the loss of first responders.
On May 6, Department of Public Safety officer Tim Hoffman was murdered while investigating an accident near Yuma. Twelve days later, Phoenix firefighter Bradley Harper was killed at a fire scene. The next day, Phoenix Police officer Daryl Raetz was murdered while arresting a drunk driver.
Three dead in two weeks.
The last time this kind of tragedy struck Arizona was in 1970-71, when two Phoenix police officers died on Dec. 28, 1970, two Maricopa County Sheriff’s deputies died Jan. 18, 1971, and two DPS officers Feb. 5 and Feb. 7. Five were murdered and one died while responding to a dying officer’s call for help. One of the murdered deputies was the father of one of the Phoenix officers who died.
Many widows and orphans were made in that five-week period.
No one ever told us being a cop or firefighter was going to be without risk or danger. Doing police work or fighting fires right is dirty, dangerous and where there’s always a chance of dying and leaving behind a widow and orphans. We just expected that our families would be taken of as promised if anything ever happened to us. Sadly promises were broken and contracts breached by the Arizona State Legislature.
Over the last two years the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System, Arizona’s police and fire pension plan, has come under selective scrutiny by powerful media interests and the Legislature.
Tales of a handful of pension abuses and a few double and triple dippers made headlines and became the catalyst for the legislature to climb onboard the pension reform train following years of plumping up their own pension plan, part-time elected officials get better pensions than police officers and firefighters, the same elected officials giving their retirement fund administrator a nearly quarter million dollar annual pension all while failing in their fiduciary and legislative responsibilities that threw the once nationally heralded public safety pension fund into mismanagement and underfunding.
Following a series of newspaper stories, the legislature led by its own in-house double and triple dippers looked more like cats covering up feces in a sand box than a responsible elected body trying to fix a broken pension system.
In its zeal and fear of being targeted by the media as against pension reform, the legislature enacted drastic changes in a few short months instead of taking a long and hard look at what had worked exceptionally well until its members fell asleep at the switch. Their repair effort looked more like using duct tape to fix a failed bridge instead of studying the problem and fixing it right once they had good advice and all the facts. Already their patch is showing signs of failure.
While the legislative leadership and their minions can boast to the media of taking on the pension abusers and pro-labor forces, you don’t hear them bragging about cutting survivor’s benefits to the widows and orphans of police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty. You see that the legislature wiped out the paltry annual cost living adjustments given to widows and orphans — many of who are unable to obtain Social Security survivor’s benefits because their spouse’s employers didn’t enroll public safety employees in Social Security.
As usual legislators will tout their support for police officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty following the recent deaths of Huffman, Harper and Raetz. If they supported them so much then why did create a situation that would hurt their survivors?
It’s time for the state legislature to fix what they broke and restore benefits to the widows and orphans of those fallen police officers and firefighters our legislator’s profess to the cameras and newspapers they respect so much and thank for their service.
Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.