Cops as Robbers

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Over at NRO, Daniel Foster tackles the growing influence of police and firefighter unions, and the petulant fearmongering they’re employing when political leaders threaten layoffs or cuts to cushy overtime pay and fat pensions. Excerpt:

The public/private disparity is especially stark when one focuses on public-safety compensation in places such as Oakland; police and firemen have accounted for about 75 percent of expenditures from the city’s general fund over the last five years. Average total compensation for an officer in Oakland — a city in which the median family earns $47,000 — is $162,000 per year.

As with most public-sector workers, a major — and opaque — piece of emergency-services compensation comes in the form of lifelong pensions.

“Public-safety workers tend to receive the most generous public-employee pensions,” says Josh Barro, a Manhattan Institute fellow and expert on state and local finance. “They are based on a significantly shorter career — it is not atypical to see police and fire pensions based on 20 years of service — and they also tend to be more generous as a percentage of salary.”

Other laws make the payouts even more generous. In New York, for instance, a “presumptive disability” law makes it easy for firemen to secure lifetime, tax-free pensions at three-quarters pay; when examining a fireman for the purpose of determining whether he has a work-related disability, a doctor is required to start with the assumption that certain illnesses are job-related even if there is no evidence that they are. A fireman from a Bronx ladder company who develops a lung disorder will qualify for disability retirement even if it’s unclear whether he developed his impairment from smoke inhalation on the job, or from his two-pack-a-day cigarette habit.

The “presumptive disability” bonanza is sometimes exacerbated by abuse. In July, the New York Post told the story of John C. McLaughlin, a 55-year-old former FDNY lieutenant who retired in 2001 with an $86,000-a-year disability pension, after it was determined that he was an asthmatic with diminished lung capacity. This despite the fact that McLaughlin is an accomplished triathlete who regularly competes in long-distance races.

McLaughlin is hardly alone. An astonishing 80 percent of 2010 FDNY retirees have qualified for disability benefits.

Regular readers of this site are well-versed in stories about how difficult police unions have made it to fire police officers for misconduct (and even then, to prevent them from merely taking a job in a different department) even when they commit actual crimes, never mind for mere incompetence. The rogue cop put on “paid leave” is so common it’s become cliche. But here’s a particularly apt recent example from Reading, Pennsylvania, courtesy of the Injustice Everywhere site.

The city policeman who accidentally shot and killed fellow Officer Michael H. Wise II during a shootout six years ago is still being paid about $100,000 per year in salary and benefits by the city of Reading – even though he has been suspended since the shooting.

James A. Palange shot and killed Wise on June 4, 2004, when he mistook the plain-clothed Wise for a criminal as he pulled up to a gunbattle on Schuylkill Avenue that pitted Wise and two other officers against a man hiding behind a car, investigators said.

Six years later, Palange is still being paid $61,911 in salary plus benefits, medical insurance and pension even though he has not worked a day for the city since the shooting.

But it’s not because he cannot work or does not want to.

For the past three years he has been working as one of four full-time police officers in Mohnton. He was hired there in June 2007 and is paid $23.93 an hour…

Reading police Chief William M. Heim said it was a personnel matter and issued a written statement only after consulting with city attorneys and other officials.

“The issue with Officer Palange is an open personnel matter among the city, the officer and the Fraternal Order of Police,” Heim wrote.

He wrote that the issue is complicated by the union contract and civil and criminal cases that followed the shooting.

“The city and the FOP are still making efforts to settle this matter, even as discussions about an arbitration hearing continue,” he wrote.

I don’t know the story behind Wise’s shooting. It’s possible that he’s a great cop who made a mistake and deserves to have his job back. But paying him $100K/year for in salary in benefits for six years while he works as a full-time cop in another jurisdiction is a curious sort of reprimand. Reading, incidentally, ran an $11 million deificit last year, and the city has been in the red since 2007.

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24 Responses to “Cops as Robbers”

  1. #1 |  Mattocracy | 

    Makes you wonder what kind of spin Fox would put on this scenario to explain it away.

    “Police Unions are different from the teamsters cause…um…terrorists!…and gay marriage!…illegal immigration! Only liberals hate police unions!”

  2. #2 |  SJE | 

    The whole pension thing is a mess, and not just cops and firefighters. Teachers, politicians etc. All income should be up-front and invested in retirement accounts that are outside the control of unions or politicians. This prevents municipal govts from hiring and paying compensation far in excess of what the future taxpayers can afford, and is open to all sorts of abuse.

    That said, the extraordinary amount of compensation in Oakland reflects past raiding of the pension fund, such that more money must be added now to make up the difference, and so it looks a lot more expensive per capita. In other words, if my boss was supposed to put 20% of my salary into a retirement account and, 20 years later I find out he didnt, it is going to take a lot more $$$ now to make up for that loss. Of course, this is another reason we shouldn’t have pension funds.

  3. #3 |  dad29 | 

    Same in Wisconsin–both the “presumptive disability” crap AND a Milwaukee cop on “disability” retirement who’s running triathlons.

    And we treat them as heroes. Yup.

  4. #4 |  Matthew Peck | 

    Pshh, you’re just saying that because you’re a Koch-vert operative! The New Yorker has outted your masters, at last!

    An acquaintance of mine just posted this on Facebook. Blind party shills like her are like electrons. They’re all negative, it’s just that half of them have the opposite spin from the other half.

  5. #5 |  Nick | 

    The Fraternal Order of Police successfully filed a grievance to get extra pay for the 3 cops that were already on paid vacation for brutally beating a student (via In Case You Missed It).

  6. #6 |  ChrisD | 

    Another point: Reading is not exactly Greenwich Connecticut to begin with. You could live pretty well there for $50K. These excessive salaries are even more superfluous than they would be elsewhere.

  7. #7 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Being a cop is the best scam in the country.

  8. #8 |  MacGregory | 

    Oh the sacrifices our fine public servants must make.

  9. #9 |  Mannie | 

    Unless and until we are willing to break the police, fire, and other public service unions, this will continue.

    I ain’t holdin’ my breath.

    Where can I sign on?

  10. #10 |  KristenS | 

    Dammit! Why didn’t I go into law enforcement?? I’d be retired on 3/4 pay and disability by now!

  11. #11 |  SJE | 

    KristenS: better than that, you can be “retired” in one jurisdiction while working in another, racking up salary and additional benefits, AND work in “security” in your “off hours” (which your boss may not track in detail) AND can go around doing pretty much whatever the F* you like and be considered a hero. Oh yeah, you also get to kill dogs.

  12. #12 |  KristenS | 

    Fuck that, SJE….me no like work. I wouldn’t be averse to doing a triathalon or two, though.

  13. #13 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Still…selling your soul to work with a bunch of shaved head guys with moustaches might not be worth even that much money for so little work.

  14. #14 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Well, ya know, when the mainstream press is busy focusing on important issues like sexting, chatroulette, and adult craigslist ads, it’s not surprising that important stuff gets left out.

    But, you never know. Maybe someday someone will come along and create a network dedicated solely to delivering news, not that anyone would watch it when there are entertaining alternatives like Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC.

  15. #15 |  alkali | 

    It’s unclear to me from the piece how public employee unions are the problem, as distinguished from the combined political influence of the public employees themselves.

    Do cities in states that don’t permit collective bargaining by public employees find it much easier to cut police and fire pay when finances get tight? My sense is that in those cities, there are employee associations that aren’t unions that wield considerable political influence.

  16. #16 |  Jerith | 

    If he was in Cali would he get IOU’s?

  17. #17 |  EH | 

    alkali@15: Yep, there will always be someone to utter the thought, “YOU GONNA GET RAPED” in one form or another. This happened in Oakland, CA recently when the city had to lay off some officers.

  18. #18 |  Warren Bonesteel | 

    The world has gone insane, folks. Up is down, right is wrong and insanity is sanity.

    iow, consensus reality kinda sucks.

  19. #19 |  megs | 

    It’s actually a pretty stupid situation for the firefighters. You have the older (probably mostly dead now) firefighters who worked with terrible equipment and most certainly died younger and had a worse quality of life and were paid very little and had almost no pension. Eventually people realize this and, agreeing that it sucks, agree to bigger salaries and pensions (and stuck it to the taxpayers). Which go to the firefighters now who have pretty advanced equipment and work for 2 weeks, off 2 weeks sort of thing. So we fixed the problem, I guess? Overfixed it, really. Really should have just raised some money and given it to the old firefighters. In some places, they didn’t get anything out of the fuss made over them.

  20. #20 |  winston smith | 

    i like the Injustice Everywhere site and help him our every day sending him news reports of “cops misbehaving”. if you want to get a glimpse of it go to to this.

    i picked Sunday’s to post about cops.

  21. #21 |  Dante | 

    It bears repeating:

    Protect & Serve (Themselves!)

  22. #22 |  Z | 

    The only careers left in America are those which involve, one way or another, sucking the government teat. The private sector has no one to blame but itself: while the government and payrolls have grown private enterprise, believing that greed was good, tried to make 95% of the workers hobble along on peanuts for the glory of the CEO. What you see today are the inevitable results of exploitation by private enterprise. People learned two things since about 1981. 1) Honest work is demeaning and impoverishing. 2) Seek alternatives, usually from the government.

  23. #23 |  pyo1 | 

    “It’s unclear to me from the piece how public employee unions are the problem, as distinguished from the combined political influence of the public employees themselves.”

    Have you looked at what these people make OTJ, then added up their bennies and retirements? Many,if not most areas are in the red. Unions of this nature, (the ones holding the monopoly on their particular service), are still holding their mitts out for more while doing less.

    I saw an article this AM, that I cannot find now, stating that that particular union has just negotiated a 5 year deal, with a 7% raise, in an area that will not be able to afford it.

  24. #24 |  markm | 

    Are there any places in the US, that ban government employees other than members of the military from unionizing? Certainly no where that I’ve ever lived or heard of.

    And the biggest problem with unionized cops is not that they can combine union tactics with political pressure on the other side of the bargaining table to get outsized pay and bennies. It’s that they joined a union in the first place.

    A long time ago, when I was young and foolish, I helped the UAW “organize” the auto parts plant where I was working. Management treated workers like dirt on their shoes, and paid minimum wage plus 20 cents – after you maxed out your seniority – and no benefits, so it was easy to get the petitions signed and win the certification election. But then what? We clearly weren’t going to get them to agree to even a token pay increase without an effective strike. That is, one that closed the plant. And that wasn’t going to happen without intimidating the less enthusiastic employees into staying home. People who just needed to feed their families. And beyond that, we’d have to “discourage” “scabs” from working there. I’m happy to say that no one there was really in favor of violence, but without violence the union local was a joke.

    At a different plant of the same company, a new UAW local did go on strike. The company hired replacements for the entire work force, bringing them in by bus. There were gun battles as the busses crossed the picket line.

    I joined the Air Force.

    What I learned from this is that to be effective, a union must be willing at least to intimidate – that is, to credibly threaten violence – and that isn’t going to hold up unless they are actually willing to initiate violence. That is, a union must be at least potentially a criminal organization. And most of the cops in the country belong to such organizations.

    So, why is anyone surprised when the cop union stands up to protect criminal cops?