Earlier this month, Santa Monica police officers were called upon to apprehend a suspect who was acting irrationally in the Pico Neighborhood. It turns out that the young man, who had disrupted a class at Santa Monica College and stole and apple from a nearby cafe, was under the influence of PCP, an intense anesthetic that can cause the user to hallucinate and have suicidal thoughts. Some have been known to have super-human strength while on the drug.
Officers chased the suspect, who twice fought off three to five officers at a time. At one point the suspect scaled a fence and entered a resident’s garage. Officers eventually found him naked in the garage. They used a Taser to subdue the suspect but that didn’t work. Five officers had to work together to place the suspect under arrest. Three officers suffered injuries.
We mention this violent apprehension to demonstrate the danger public safety employees — police, fire and community service officers — face on a regular basis during the course of their work. These men and women deserve to be protected once they are through protecting us. We say this because we are not supportive of the movement for pension reform when it comes to public safety employees.
The most vocal critics of public pensions often use law enforcement retirement plans as examples of why reform is needed, saying the state is too generous when it comes to police officers and other public safety employees. The topic has gained exposure thanks to California’s economic woes and the unfunded pension liability CalPERS is facing (some estimate the bill being more than $500 billion).
Clearly, pension reform is needed. Future public employees must contribute more to their retirement and be expected to pay for some of their healthcare. That is the only way many cities will be able to sustain themselves without large fee and tax increases.
But when it comes to those who protect us daily, we say they should be protected from the reforms. Those who sit behind a desk all their careers should be forced to pay more and most likely will in the coming years. But those who risk their lives catching crooks on PCP shouldn’t be put at risk when it comes to their retirement.