It’s easy to ignore the radical ideas of the extreme right or left. It is even easier to ignore those radical ideas when they are printed almost daily in the guest opinion column of the op-ed section of the paper. After all, it’s just opinion. I want to give credit to the majority of Americans who drive in the middle lane of the political thinking highway. It’s time to infuse the opinion pages with some straight talk, or as America’s favorite detective, Joe Friday, would say, “Just the facts, Ma’am.”
It is fact that the economy is working its way out of the worst recession since the great depression. It is also fact that the state budget is in turmoil. It is our local reality that Santa Barbara County is facing a vast budget gap for fiscal year 2011/12. It is fact that the “rising cost” of public employee pensions is due to the state of the economy, not an increase in benefits. The stock market crash changed the way the retirement investments performed. It is no longer paying for itself, or providing a surplus. It is now requiring an infusion of funds to make the fund whole.
It is opinion, however, that the county’s financial woes are due to public employee salary and benefits. It is also opinion that the problems can be solved by reducing the pay and benefits of public employees.
Most recent attacks in the opinion pages have come directly at public safety and law enforcement. Here are the facts about your local public safety benefits. Members of the Santa Barbara County Deputy Sheriff’s Association include sheriff’s deputies, custody deputies, emergency communications dispatchers, and district attorney investigators. Sheriff’s deputies and custody deputies may retire at age 50, with 3 percent of their final average salary for every year worked. That means that a deputy who begins their career at age 25 (typically after completing military service or obtaining a college degree) could retire and collect 75 percent of their salary. For the majority of the membership, that equates to $51,750 per year. That is not the exorbitant salary that some would have you believe. The retirement system would also contribute approximately $375 per month towards health care, not even enough to cover a single insured person. The fact is, according to the California Public Employees Retirement System, only one percent of retirees retire at age 50 with 90 percent of their final average salary.
Public safety members do not receive Social Security or Medicare benefits.
When considering the opinions of the few who would have you believe that your law enforcement officers enjoy salary and benefits that far surpass the rest of society, I ask that you place a value on your public safety. Recognize the facts. Members of your Deputy Sheriff’s Association wear a bulletproof vest to work and carry a firearm to protect ourselves and the public. We patrol your neighborhoods while you sleep, we respond to your call, 24/7, in your most desperate time of need. We work in the custody facilities that house society’s worst offenders. We work weekends, nights, and holidays. We work during family barbeques, birthdays, and school dance recitals. Our industry’s standards are constantly being raised. Law enforcement professionals often hold bachelors degrees in law and society or criminal justice. We pass a rigorous testing process, background checks, and mental and physical fitness evaluations before being hired to attend a paramilitary style academy. After six-month academy, deputies must receive another four to six months of on-the-job training. We must be experts in the Constitution, local, state, and federal law. We are held to the highest standards by society, and our actions are constantly evaluated and second-guessed by the public and the media.
Law enforcement officers across the nation are falling victim to violent attacks. Deaths in the line of duty rose 40 percent in 2010. Forty-eight law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty in 2011; of these, 23 were killed by gunfire. Despite these disturbing statistics, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Deputies and other members of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association come to work every day. We are prepared to answer the call, serve the community. and keep the peace. We do this while asking for little in return. We enter this profession knowing we will not become rich or famous. There are no stock options, year-end bonuses, or expense accounts. We ask for modest and steady pay and a defined retirement that will allow us to rest comfortably after 30 years of physically and mentally stressful service to our communities. We ask that you appreciate the value that is placed on your quality of life and the men and women who are sworn to protect it.