In 2011, Utah’s police officers saw their retirement plan drastically changed.
Before, any officer who served 20 years was entitled to retire and receive 50 percent of their salary for life. It was a popular program among police, who say that it helped them lure capable staff; the nation, however, was in a recession, and in a bid to cut costs wherever possible, the state slashed the program, now requiring officers to work 25 years to retire with just 37 percent of their wage.
The impact, police say, has been drastic. Within three years, applications from new officers in Salt Lake City dropped by more than 50 percent, according to a report in the Daily Universe, with police chiefs around the state reporting similar drops in recruitment.
Today, however, KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic are starting a new campaign to restore the old police retirement plan and make sure that the men and women who risk their lives for our safety are taken care of.
Here’s how you can help.
The police retirement program and recruitment
When Taylorsville Police Chief Tracy Wyant applied for his job in blue in 1997, the competition was steep. There were about 700 people vying for only a handful of positions, he says. Only the best made it through.
Twenty-plus years later, the situation is very, very different. The last time his team had to recruit new officers, he says, they only received 62 application for as many as 30 to 40 vacant posts.
That’s a massive drop in applicants. Today, as every police chief knows all too well, new recruits are hard to come by. And while that is a problem nationwide, Wyant believes that, in Utah, a lot of it has to do with slashing the police retirement program.
“Since the legislation that was passed in 2010 and enacted in 2011, we have seen a steady decline in the number of applications received,” he told Dave & Dujanovic.
In part, Wyant admits, that change happened because of Utah’s booming economy and because of a growing negative image of police in the media. But he believes that a big part of it, on top of all that, is the changes to the retirement program.
“Every neighboring state to Utah … has a superior public retirement plan that we have in Utah,” he says. “It’s something we need to remedy.”
Rep. Paul Ray agrees. Restoring the police retirement plan, he says, is “vitally important, not just for law enforcement, but for the communities so that we can have the officers to actually do the job for us.”
The old retirement program, he says, was a major incentive to draw officers into what was ultimately a low-paying and incredibly dangerous job. “[Recruiters] would say: ‘Well, look, the salary’s not great, but look at the benefits,'” Ray told Dave & Dujanovic. “Look at what you’re going to get in the end.’”
Without that incentive, he says, there’s little reason for any officer to join up, let alone to stay on for the full 25 years needed to qualify for the current retirement program, especially given the amount of negative press police have received over the last few years.
“We’re asking people to come in for terrible pay, terrible retirement, and to basically be hounded constantly while they’re trying to do their job,” Ray says.
#PayOurPolice: How you can help
Rep. Paul Ray says he is working with a group of other state representatives and senators to try to restore the police retirement program back to something closer to what it once was, and Dave & Dujanovic are asking their listeners to help.
This year, Ray says, Sen. Wayne Harper and Rep. Lee Perry will be presenting a bill to the Senate and the House to revert the police retirement program back to providing 50 percent of an officer’s income for life.
The bill will still require officers to work 25 years to qualify for retirement; something Ray admits is a “compromise” intended to help it win bipartisan support. Once it passes, however, he says that he will try to push other bills to improve the police program.
“There’s some more things that we have to do to help them out along the way,” Ray says. “This is the first step.”
Ray says that he believes that the timing is right for the bill to pass. However, he is counting on public support to help push it through.
“The key is: talk to your representatives,” Ray says. “If you want them to vote for it, you’ve got to contact them and say: ‘We really want this to pass this year.’”
To help Ray’s bill pass, Dave & Dujanovic are asking listeners to pledge their support for the state to improve police retirement benefits. The pledge is here:
Click the link to pledge your support here to restore police pensions in Utah! Police departments across the state say they are having problems recruiting new officers. Improving their retirement benefits would do a lot to help. Pledge your support now: https://t.co/Ef26kxJBK8
— Dave and Dujanovic (@D2KSL) January 23, 2019
More to the story
You can hear everything Rep. Paul Ray and Taylorsville Police Chief Tracy Wyant had to say on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast:
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