When discussing the sensitive subject of public employee compensation, there are several important dimensions that must be considered – can we afford it, is it appropriate and fair, how does it compare to the private sector (if comparisons can even be made), what are the additional costs for employer paid benefits, and how do we estimate the annual employer payments required to fund future retirement pensions and healthcare?

When discussing public safety compensation, there is an additional layer of complexity – how do we adequately value the premium that public safety personnel deserve as compensation for the risks they take in the performance of their jobs? These are tough questions that have been explored here and elsewhere. These discussions are healthy and necessary. But there is another question that is worth exploring, for all public employees but especially with respect to public safety employees – if they are to be highly compensated, than what expectations may the public have regarding their professionalism, and how may they be held accountable for their conduct?

Before going any further, it is important to add the following points: Public safety jobs require higher levels of education and job skills than they ever have, for a variety of reasons. Crime itself has become far more sophisticated and menacing, ranging from cyber crime to terrorism to the emergence of global organized crime organizations. At the same time, we expect more from public safety – and they have delivered. Almost everywhere in the United States, crime rates are at historic lows. You get what you pay for. Moreover, the value we place on human life is higher than ever, meaning that what may have constituted an acceptable risk premium for working in law enforcement fifty years ago is not nearly enough today. Fair enough.

None of this, however, exempts public safety from an ongoing public discussion regarding police conduct. It is our obligation as members of a democracy, as opposed to a police state, to have this discussion, to ask tough questions, and to resist unfounded suggestions that to question some law enforcement tactics or training somehow equates with a lack of support for law enforcement personnel or the tough jobs they do.

The brutal, tragic demise of Kelly Thomas, a mentally disturbed man who managed to get himself severely beaten by six police officers in Fullerton, California back in July, 2011, brings this question into focus – he later died after lapsing into a coma for several days. The reason the Thomas case is worth bringing up is not because these police officers were “bad apples,” who used excessive force. The reason is because the two officers who, apparently, were most responsible for this beat down were acquitted in January 2014, by a jury that deliberated for less than two hours. Apparently these officers were doing exactly what they were trained to do.

Which brings us to the video. Watch this heartbreaking 33 minute video, and ask yourself if this is how we should be training our police officers to behave. Watch the whole thing, weep if you have a heart, and wonder how we can’t come up with training that might avoid what happened that night in Fullerton.

The Kelly Thomas case is rare, but not unheard of. Unarmed citizens, often mentally disturbed or intoxicated, or emotionally overwrought, may end up severely beaten or dead if they aren’t immediately respectful and compliant with police officers. But sometimes it’s hard for someone who is mentally disturbed, or intoxicated, or emotionally overwrought, to be immediately compliant. Their reason is impaired. Should they die? Is that a capital offense?

The point of all this isn’t to second guess the police, who are out on the streets day and night, and who have insights that a civilian can only try to appreciate. The point of this is to ask one simple question: What does professionalism cost? Because saying “they’re [fists] getting ready to f— you up,” is not something that a police officer should be saying to anyone, ever, including Kelly Thomas (transcript, top of page 13, video at 15:20). Because the sacred duty of police officers in a free society is to enforce the law with equanimity, using deadly force as a last resort, and never with malice.

If you review the rates of pay for Fullerton police officers, or for public safety employees throughout California’s cities, you will see that on average they collect pay and employer paid benefits of about $170,000 per year – median pay is actually a bit higher. And these averages do not take entirely into account the rising costs for unfunded liabilities for retirement pensions and health care which certainly represent additional costs that accrue, and legitimately belong in any calculation of average compensation. To make that kind of money in the private sector requires someone ascending to the upper, if not elite, strata of business. It is a sum of money that merits high expectations.

The surveillance cameras that caught on video the death of Kelly Thomas represent the bright, transparent side of the era we’re entering, where everyone shall watch everyone, where nothing will be secret. There is a price to pay as we lose our privacy, but there is also a benefit. Beat downs like the one that befell Kelly Thomas will be increasingly viewed by the public, and hopefully as a result, changes will come to the training manuals that will hopefully preclude officers beating an unarmed man in the head with a baton, when he’s on the ground and going nowhere.

Respect for the dignity of all citizens isn’t something that we should only reserve for the polite, the professional, and the law abiding. That’s easy. Along with firm justice, we must offer abiding respect for the troubled, the sick, the destitute and homeless, the angry, the desperate, and yes, even the disrespectful and the criminal, because they are also human beings. How else can we hope to remain a free people?

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center

10 Responses to How Much Does Professionalism Cost?

  1. Tough Love says:

    Two Quotes from your post (below) are very good one. My thoughts …..

    (1) Quoting ….. “When discussing the sensitive subject of public employee compensation, there are several important dimensions that must be considered – can we afford it, is it appropriate and fair, how does it compare to the private sector (if comparisons can even be made), what are the additional costs for employer paid benefits ….”

    In California the typical recent Pubic Safety retiree’s pension starts at just about $100,000 and is COLA adjusted thereafter. By looking at a table of life annuity factors, such a single life immediate annuity has a value or cost upon retirement of just about $1.8 Million (18 times the annual pension). One way to judge if that is reasonable (or “appropriate and fair”) is to answer the question … What would be the necessary INCOME LEVEL (or Final Average Salary … FAS) of a Private Sector worker with the TYPICAL Private Sector DB pension (for the few Private Sector workers lucky enough to still be covered by such a pensions) to obtain a pension from his/her employer with the SAME $1.8 Million “value” upon retirement ?

    Assume the CA safety worker has the typical 3% of final average pay per-year-of-service pension factor, had a final average salary of $111,111, 30 years of service and retired at age 55… resulting in the starting pension of $111,111 x .03 x 30 = $100,000. Next, let’s assume the Private Sector worker’s DB pension formula is 1.25% per year of service (a quite typical formula), is NOT COLA adjusted (routine in PRIVATE Sector Plans), and has a full unreduced retirement age of 62 (with a 4% reduction in pension payout for each year of age that you retire begin collecting your pension before age 62).

    For a given Final Average Salary (FAS), this Private Sector worker’s annual pension (P) is given by the formula P = (FAS x 30 x .0125)x (1-((62-55)x.04)), with the latter part of that formula being the adjustment for early retirement at age 55. Shortening that formula, we have P = (FAS x 30 x .0125) x 0.72.

    From above, we saw that the Safety worker’s pension (being COLA-increased) has a lump sum “value” of 18 times the annual STARTING pension. With no COLA increases, the lump sum “value” is only 13 times the annual pension. Therefore the Lump Sum “value” of the Private Sector worker’s pension is given by 13 x P, and since we are SETTING that value equal to the $1.8 Million value of the safety worker’s pension we have $1,800,000 = 13 x P, and solving for P, we have P= $1,800,000/13 = $138,462. This Private Sector non-COLA-increased annual pension of $138,462 can be looked at as being mathematically equivalent to an otherwise identical pension starting at $100,000 that includes 3% annual COLA increases (i.e., the Safety worker’s pension).

    Now since we know the annual Private Sector worker’s annual pension “P”, we can plug it into my above formula of P = (FAS x 30 x .0125) x 0.72 to solve for FAS. Doing so we have, $138,462 = (FAS x 30 x .0125) x 0.72, from which

    FAS = $138,462/(30 x 0.0125 x 0.72) = $512,822

    What this shows is that a Private Sector worker (with a TYPICAL DB pension formula and provisions) would need to have a final average salary of $512,812 to generate a pension from his/her employer with the SAME $1.8 Million “value” as the TYPICAL Safety worker pension …. or $512,822/$111,111 = 4.62 times the Safety worker’s salary.

    And for the skeptics that say …. this can’t be correct …. we can just reverse the order of calculations and SHOW that this $512,822 PRIVATE Sector salary is indeed necessary to generate a pension with a “value” equal to that (the $1.8 Million) of the Public Sector Safety worker … as follows:

    (a) Private Sector worker’s Annual (non-COLA-increased) pension = $512,822 x 30 x 0.0125 x .72 = $138,462
    (b) Lump sum value (using the 13 times life annuity factor applicable to non-COLA-increased pensions) = $138.462 x 13 = $1.8 Million

    While most reasonable people would suggest that (give the nature of the occupations) Safety workers should receive pensions equivalent to Private Sector workers with salaries say 10% or 25% or 50% greater than they, I find it incredulous to believe that ANYONE would feel it appropriate to provide the TYPICAL CA Safety worker retiree with a pension equivalent to that of the Private Sector worker making over $500,000 annually. Taxpayers (who pay for all but the 10-20% of Total Coat Public Sector pensions typically paid for by the worker’s own contributions and the investment earnings thereon) simply cannot afford anything even remotely close to this level of generosity.

    (2) “When discussing public safety compensation, there is an additional layer of complexity – how do we adequately value the premium that public safety personnel deserve as compensation for the risks they take in the performance of their jobs? ”

    Public Sector Safety positions (Police, Fire, Corrections, etc.) indeed involve “risks” that the typical Private Sector worker does not encounter, and it is indeed a difficult task to come up with a premium (in pay and/or benefits) commensurate with that risk.

    While I do not have a definitive suggestion as to how much that premium should be, we should factor into that discussion the degree of incremental Police/Fire related risks relative to other high risk occupations, and look to the compensation afforded those in more risky occupations for guidance. While surprising to some, Public Sector safety occupations do not find themselves on the US Gov’t Bureau Of Labor Statistic’s list of the 10 deadliest jobs. From a 2013 Forbes article, the list of the 10 most dangerous occupations is as follows:

    1. Logging workers
    2. Fishers and related fishing workers
    3. Aircraft pilot and flight engineers
    4. Roofers
    5. Structural iron and steel workers
    6. Refuse and recyclable material collectors
    7. Electrical power-line installers and repairers
    8. Drivers/sales workers and truck drivers
    9. Farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers
    10. Construction laborers

  2. SkippingDog says:

    “In California the typical recent Pubic Safety retiree’s pension starts at just about $100,000 and is COLA adjusted thereafter.”

    That is unmitigated BS, Tough Love.

    • Tough Love says:

      SkippingDog,

      According to THIS article … …. California Highway Patrol officers 1-st month retirement payments (as of 2012) were $7,418 (or $89K annually).

      According the THIS (Feb, 2013) article …. http://money.cnn.com/2013/02/11/retirement/state-workers-pension-benefits/ …. A CA state highway patrol officer hired before September 2010 can retire at age 50 after 30 years on the job with 90% of his salary. At an average salary of $100,000, that would translate into a pension of $90,000 a year.

      With these article being based on data 1-2 years old and with Firefighter salaries typically 10+K greater than Police salaries, using $100,000 for a 2014 30-year “Safety” (Police & Fire) worker staring pension in 2014 seemed … and STILL seems quite reasonable.

      In any event, you should have noticed that ALL of the calculations would simply change IN PROPORTION if a different starting pension were used for the Safety worker …. and with the Private Sector worker STILL needing a salary 4.62 times that of the Safety worker to generate a pension with the SAME value at retirement as that granted the Safety worker.

      • Tough Love says:

        SkippingDog,

        (NOTE: I twice tired to respond with LINKS to my sources below, but had to remove the links as the comment would not go thorough with them)

        According to THIS Sacbee article (Link Removed) … California Highway Patrol officers 1-st month retirement payments (as of 2012) were $7,418 (or $89K annually).

        According the THIS MONEY-CNN (Feb, 2013) article (Link Removed) …. A CA state highway patrol officer hired before September 2010 can retire at age 50 after 30 years on the job with 90% of his salary. At an average salary of $100,000, that would translate into a pension of $90,000 a year.

        With these article being based on data 1-2 years old and with Firefighter salaries typically 10+K greater than Police salaries, using $100,000 for a 2014 30-year “Safety” (Police & Fire) worker staring pension in 2014 seemed …. and STILL seems quite reasonable.

        In any event, you should have noticed that ALL of the calculations would simply change IN PROPORTION if a different starting pension were used for the Safety worker …. and with the Private Sector worker STILL needing a salary 4.62 times that of the Safety worker to generate a pension with the SAME value at retirement as that granted the Safety worker.

        Specifically,

        With the Safety worker’s pension starting at $100,000, we have:
        (1) Implied Safety worker FAS of $111,111
        (2) Safety worker Lump Sum pension value of $1.8M
        (3) Private Sector Worker needing a FAS of $512,821 to get the SAME $1.8 M pension
        (4) And $512,821/$111,111 = 4.62 times greater Private Sector salary needed to get the SAME $1.8M pension as that of the Safety worker

        With the Safety worker’s pension starting at say $90.000, we would instead have:
        (1) Implied Safety worker FAS of $100,000
        (2) Safety worker Lump Sum pension value of $1.62M
        (3) Private Sector Worker needing a FAS of $461,538 to get the SAME $1.62 M pension
        (4) And $461,538/$100,000 = 4.62 times greater Private Sector salary needed to get the SAME $1.62M pension as that of the Safety worker …. THE SAME MULTIPLE AS IN THE ABOVE EXAMPLE.

        So to repeat what I stated earlier …. I find it incredulous to believe that ANYONE would feel it appropriate to provide the TYPICAL CA Safety worker retiree with a pension equivalent to that of the Private Sector worker making a salary 4.62 times greater (or nearly $500,000 annually).

        • SkippingDog says:

          California Highway Patrol officers are among the most highly compensated public safety employees in the state. Even then, your claim that they all retire with $100k per year is vastly overstated.

          According to an October 13, 2013 report by the Orange County Register, a conservative and right-wing publication at the forefront of the attacks on public employees and their compensation, the average retirement pay for a public safety pensioner in California is $62k per year. Nothing to sneeze at, but not nearly the same as blanket claim you made.

          • Tough Love says:

            SkippingDog,

            Interesting how you always attempt to distract from the relevant point …

            My above mathematical demonstration was based on a CURRENT (2014) CA safety worker retiree with a 30-year career and retiring at age 55. For that demographic the $100,000 average starting pension is likely accurate, and certainly not off by more than $10,000 (higher or lower).

            But importantly …. REGARDLESS of the retired safety worker’s starting pension, I demonstrated that for a Private Sector worker (with the typical Private Sector DB pension) and also retiring at age 55 with 30 years of service, THEY would need a salary 4.62 times greater than that of the safety worker to generate a pension with the SAME value as that of the safety worker.

            AND, because all of my above calculations are proportional, that multiple of 4.62 does not change even if the safety worker’s starting pension is higher or lower.

            Regardless of the legal barriers (that have been put in place by those with a vested interest in continuing the status quo), their are no “solutions” to this pension cost mess that do not include VERY material (50%-75%) reductions for the FUTURE Service of all CURRENT workers …. and, for PAST Service accruals where dire financial circumstance leave no other reasonable options.

          • Tough Love says:

            SkippingDog, I thought your protests as to my use of $100,000 as the starting Safety worker’s pension to be so disingenuous, that additional commentary was appropriate …

            Specifically, if we made that Safety worker’s pension much SMALLER by assuming that he/she had only had 20 (rather than 30 years of service, but still retiring at age 55) the workers’ pension would then START at $66,667 annually, with a “value” of $66,667 x 18 = $1.2 Million. But EVEN then, the Private Sector worker’s salary would STILL need to be 4.62 times greater than that of the Safety worker to get (under HIS/HER DB pension formula, and now also with 20 years of service) a pension with the SAME (but now lower) “value” of $1.2 Million.

            You see, the 4.62 multiplier is NOT even a function of the Safety worker’s pay or years of service but simply results from the MUCH MUCH richer Safety worker pension formula (3% vs 1.25% per year of service), the inclusion of COLA increases (which the Private Sector worker’s pension does NOT include), and the ability to begin collecting his/her pension at age 55 (vs 62 for the Private Sector worker) but with no early retirement adjustment.

            Many times, I have stated that your pension (as a retired Safety worker) is Grossly Excessive. CLEARLY, my long mathematical demonstration above and my follow-up comments, support that conclusion.

    • Tough Love says:

      SkippingDog,

      According to THIS article …. …. California Highway Patrol officers 1-st month retirement payments (as of 2012) were $7,418 (or $89K annually).

      According the THIS (Feb, 2013) article …. http://money.cnn.com/2013/02/11/retirement/state-workers-pension-benefits/ …. A CA state highway patrol officer hired before September 2010 can retire at age 50 after 30 years on the job with 90% of his salary. At an average salary of $100,000, that would translate into a pension of $90,000 a year.

      With these article being based on data 1-2 years old and with Firefighter salaries typically 10+K greater than Police salaries, using $100,000 for a 2014 30-year “Safety” (Police & Fire) worker staring pension in 2014 seemed …. and STILL seems quite reasonable.

      In any event, you should have noticed that ALL of the calculations would simply change IN PROPORTION if a different starting pension were used for the Safety worker …. and with the Private Sector worker STILL needing a salary 4.62 times that of the Safety worker to generate a pension with the SAME value at retirement as that granted the Safety worker.

      Specifically,

      With the Safety worker’s pension starting at $100,000, we have:
      (1) Implied Safety worker FAS of $111,111
      (2) Safety worker Lump Sum pension value of $1.8M
      (3) Private Sector Worker needing a FAS of $512,821 to get the SAME $1.8 M pension
      (4) And $512,821/$111,111 = 4.62 times greater Private Sector salary needed to get the SAME $1.8M pension as that of the Safety worker

      With the Safety worker’s pension starting at say $90.000, we would instead have:
      (1) Implied Safety worker FAS of $100,000
      (2) Safety worker Lump Sum pension value of $1.62M
      (3) Private Sector Worker needing a FAS of $461,538 to get the SAME $1.62 M pension
      (4) And $461,538/$100,000 = 4.62 times greater Private Sector salary needed to get the SAME $1.62M pension as that of the Safety worker ….. THE SAME MULTIPLE AS IN THE ABOVE.EXAMPLE

      So to repeat what I stated earlier …. I find it incredulous to believe that ANYONE would feel it appropriate to provide the TYPICAL CA Safety worker retiree with a pension equivalent to that of the Private Sector worker making a salary 4.62 times greater (or nearly $500,000 annually).

  3. YEEEHAAA says:

    Will have to tell my wife that her retirement should be 100k a year, oh – and mine too! We don’t get that TOGETHER – and we retired just less than two years ago. So much for those safety retirements. LOL…

  4. YEEEEHAAAA says:

    YEEEEHAAA,

    Sure is fun to watch someone drink their OWN kool-aid. We are all retiring with 100k+ per year. Sign me up for a Winnebago!! Us state retirees don’t get half that. If you can make it happen, my wife and I would be so appreciative. We might even come out and visit you in N.J….driving the Winnebago of course.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.
UNIONWATCH WEEKLY NEWSLETTER
Yes! Please send me your weekly email with more articles like these.
NEVER DISPLAY THIS AGAIN.