Police incentives on the ballot

January 30, 2008 7:32:47 PM PST
Voters in San Francisco will decide on an unusual proposition Tuesday, one that would allow police offers to work past their retirement dates.

Police say the measure is critical, a way to allow veteran cops to stay on the job at a time when hundreds are set to retire.

Fifty-eight-year-old Leon Sorhondo has been a San Francisco cop for 35 years. Officers can retire at 55, after 30 years of service.

Many of his colleagues did, whether they wanted to or not -- simply because they maxed out their pension.

Sorhondo stayed on because he has two kids in college and a young child still at home.

"I also have a 5-year-old. That's my inducement for staying around to see if proposition B passes. Then it would be worthwhile for me to stay," said Sorhondo.

Proposition B is known as the DROP program, deferred retirement option plan.

Here's how it works: An officer who's at retirement age can still work up to three more years.

Deductions would continue to be made and applied to his pension. During those three years, his pension contribution would be placed into a 401K type of account.

Gary Delganes is president of the police officers association, which is the driving force behind the ballot measure.

"Drop gives us an opportunity to keep our older folks around for a few years while figuring out how to deal with the ultimate problem which is to draw more people to law enforcement," said Gary Delganes from the Police Officers Association.

Some call this ballot measure critical to the department; that's because about 600 veteran officers will be eligible to retire within the next three years.

"We have this huge post Vietnam era hiring that occurred in 70, 71, 79, 80, 81, so we're seeing a mass exodus or potential mass exodus out of here," said Delganes.

Many of those veterans are inspectors -- the ones who investigate crimes. As they leave, they'll take with them decades of experience, the kind you can't teach at the academy.

"Places like homicide, robbery, burglary; you certainly want a level of expertise that you can maintain up there," said Delganes.

The department also needs to keep officers on the beat and that hasn't been easy, it's down short some 250 officers.

The mayor wants five academy classes per year to make up the difference, but the drop out rate is high.

"Each class starts off with 50 people, and of the 50 people we have anywhere between 35 and 40 that actually graduate from the academy from start to finish. Once they get to the field training program, we loose another two to four," said San Francisco Police Department Recruiting Officer Sgt. Trinia Wearing.

Officer Sorhondo has already been offered another job but he would rather continue working in the job he loves.

"If proposition b doesn't pass, I'll probably get ready to retire in the next few months," said San Francisco Police Officer Sorhondo.

Proposition B supporters say there would be no net cost in the city; even though the city would be paying Sorhondo his salary plus retirement pay, the overall cost should be less than recruiting, training and paying a new officer to replace him.

Proposition B has no formal opposition. The Foundation for Taxpayers Rights and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association have did not take a position.

The San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association is not supporting the measure, but decided against formally opposing Proposition B.