While most of us in law enforcement are able to retire relatively young and enter another line of work, and do so, most often that work is private sector. A small but not insignificant number of us – as well as retired teachers, firefighters, and other public employees – do choose to remain in public service even if the new jobs differ greatly from the old. Often, the new positions pay into different pension fund than the one being collected in retirement so the publics’ accusations of “double-dipping” fail the sniff test. Nonetheless, strict definitions mean little in politics, nor does the fact that the monies being collected from one pension are earned but deferred compensation from the prior job and have no legal bearing on the current one. Political expediency doesn’t allow for educating the public on the legal nuances of pension codes or what true “double-dipping” is; political expediency demands action in the face of public outrage, whether the outrage fits the perceived offense or not.
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The purpose of this article is not to dissect or debate Representative Franks’ proposed law; from a practical standpoint it means little to most of you unless you live in Illinois. But to those of us who do live and work here, and may someday want to sidestep into another realm of public service, its ramifications are huge. Its purpose is twofold: First, to raise awareness of how politicians, at all levels and in all locales, are scapegoating public employees more than ever and why. And second, to ask the question, “What can or should we do about it?”
Too often the answer to “What can or should we do about it?” seems to be, “Whine, b*tch, complain, and play the ‘everybody hates us’ card.” And, as much fun as that always is, it tends to really do little more than breed cynicism and self-pity. Now is the time to demand respect back from the public and politicians who used to at least pay it in lip service to us. Whether you are a “front-lines” type, willing to take a formal or informal leadership role of some sort, or more behind the scenes by supporting those who are born leaders, get involved. Read and follow the news religiously, and know what your local and state political representatives are up to. Be willing to support those who have your back in the halls of power either financially or with volunteer labor should the call arise. If you have the gift and inclination, write! Write your elected representatives and the media, not to mention politically active groups and individuals whether they’re on your side or not. Remember, The Pen is Mightier than the Sword! Befriend a reporter or two. They don’t bite (really, they don’t) and, if they are reputable, will abide by journalistic ethics. Being able to drop an email (possibly confidentially, if you ask) to one you trust and who trusts you can be mutually beneficial. It doesn’t mean they drop their objectivity – they must have that intact – but gives you an outlet and a contact, while they gain access to information that’s not pre-packaged and controlled for media consumption.
And, maybe most importantly, talk to regular folks. Make yourself real and accessible. Be open - but not cynical – with your regulars on the beat about such political concerns and threats to our job, for when you do this with enough of those regulars there is the possible effect of, “I told two people, and they each told two people, who each told two people…” It’s hard to scapegoat someone or their profession when that someone is a friend, or a friend of a friend.
In short, be alert, be involved, and be positive. I mentioned earlier in this article that the days of scapegoating used to be a political third rail but that “those days are largely gone and we may never see them again.” Note I said we “may” never see them again. We still might, but it’s going to be up to us.