SFPD retirement program intended in jeopardy

June 15, 2011 8:12:29 PM PDT
More than 100 San Francisco police officers could announce their decision to hang-up their badge in the next few weeks if the Board of Supervisors does not extend a program designed to save the city money.

At issue is the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP). It was drafted to keep veteran cops in the force and also to save the city money by avoiding the cost of training new officers. Officers need to be at least 55 years old and have been in the department for 25 years to be eligible for postponing their retirement for an additional three years. During that time, they will collect a salary, pension benefits and have money put aside in a special 401k retirement plan that will be given to them once they actually leave the force.

Wednesday afternoon, the Board of Supervisors budget committee got a report on the first 30 months of the program and so far, the benefits are not what were expected.

"If it encourages them to work longer than they would have, without it, then its cost saving potential are realized; if the behavior is other than that, then the cost saving potential are not realized," San Francisco Controllers Office Director Peg Stevenson said.

Since DROP was implemented in July 2008, 560 officers have been eligible for retirement. Of those, 94 retired outright, 266 opted for the program and worked an average of one year longer and 190 are currently deferring their retirement.

The problem is the city cannot determine if these officers are really putting off their decision to hang up their badge, or doing something totally unexpected.

"It appears that members are entering DROP before they would otherwise retire," Bill Hallmark said.

That means the city is not saving any money -- a big selling point of the plan to voters.

The police officer's union wants to give the program more time and warned of a doomsday effect if DROP is not extended past June 30.

"If this DROP is sunsetted, we believe we will have another 150-175 officers going into this in the next week," Police Officers Association President Gary Delagnes said.

That means they would be a year away from retirement.

Supervisor Scott Wiener says the program only postpones an existing problem and the city should refocus on hiring new officers.

"If we don't start investing in the future of the police department quickly, we are going to have a problem in terms of staffing levels," Wiener said.

Whether the DROP program is extended or not next week, more than 500 police officers will retire from the force in the next five years. Currently, Mayor Ed Lee's budget proposal does not include money for a new class of police recruits to fill the void.

Written and produced by Juan Carlos Guerrero

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