32 LMPD officers retired in July, and more could come amid pension plan concerns
Chief Steve Conrad expressed in mid-July that the department is preparing with more recruitment classes for anticipated retirements.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – According to an LMPD spokesperson, 32 sworn officers retired in the month of July. That's more than double the amount of retirements for the first six months of 2017.
Chief Steve Conrad expressed in mid-July that the department is preparing with more recruitment classes for anticipated retirements. The chief said 96 officers could be eligible for retirement this year.
After the recent wave of retirements, River City FOP president Dave Mutchler said around 100 officers could be eligible to retire by January. He expects more will leave the department because of concerns regarding the state pension system.
“It’s pretty clear to us that there’s the fear of the unknown when it comes to what potential changes might occur in the retirement system,” Mutchler said.
The state legislature could make changes to the failing pension system if Gov. Matt Bevin calls a special session this fall. For some officers eligible to retire, the risk of losing what they contributed to a retirement fund is enough to retire in hopes of saving what they have.
“They’ve made life-long decisions based on their retirement benefits,” Mutchler said. “And they can’t afford to have drastic changes.”
Mutchler added that it’s not just veteran officers that could be affected. If there are massive changes minimizing the pension plans, he believes that could impact the department’s ability to attract new officers. And, he said, officers with only a few years at the department might consider leaving.
“I’m early in my law enforcement career,” said Mutchler, thinking like a young officer. “Is this going to be something that can sustain me? Or do I need to do something different?”
The potential changes to the pension system would impact more than just police officers. Firefighters, judges, teachers and every city, county or government job in between could be affected across Kentucky.
House Representative Jerry Miller, (R) District 36, fully expects Bevin to call a special session in late-September or early-October to address the failing pension system. Miller is on the Public Pension Oversight Board. He said legislators have not yet learned what Bevin’s recommendations might be.
“We didn’t get here easily,” Miller said. “It took 40 years of governors and legislators to get us where we are.”
The legislator representing parts of Jefferson and Oldham Counties said decades of poor decisions, investments and assumptions created an underfunded pension system.
“So you add up all those numbers, and you’re somewhere between $40 billion and $50 billion ... underfunded,” Miller said.
It’s a “fiscal nightmare” and an “enormous problem” for everyone, Miller said, because the solution to fund pensions will need to include some combination of increasing revenue, raising taxes, and cutting benefits.
However, with so many unknowns, the legislator cautioned workers, including officers, of retiring without all the information.
“There is no reason to think that retiring in September, as opposed to a year from September, is going to have a material impact on your retirement,” Miller said.
For LMPD, the recent retirements are causing some immediate concern with staffing and experience levels.
“So every time one of those people retire, and an officer is promoted or a sergeant is promoted to fill those spots, another officer comes off the street," Mutchler said. "So we’re definitely going to see less boots on the ground.”
Councilman David James said Metro Council members will need to take into consideration what is causing officers to retire or resign, what can be done to retain and hire more, and if any more funding is needed. James expects more overtime pay will be necessary to cover the gap and train new officers. Conrad will have the opportunity in December to request more funding for a mid-year budget adjustment.
James added officers could be leaving for more than pension concerns.
“From talking to many of the officers many of the reasons they’re retiring also is because of lack of leadership form Chief Conrad," James said. "And Metro Council will be taking a voice on that also very soon.”
The Metro Public Safety Committee will vote on whether to hold a "No Confidence" vote on Wednesday, before sending it to full council.
In the meantime, with fewer people applying to become police officers, Mutchler said it’s becoming increasingly difficult to put more boots on the ground.
“People that are eligible to retire could do so tomorrow, if they want to,” he said. “It takes almost a year to train an officer and get them on the street to replace them. So you cannot possibly replace those that are leaving, unless you’ve planned ahead.
“We haven’t done that. So we’re not in a position to do that.”
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