To: Director G. Laurain &
Deputy Director J. Wright
From: Lt. Mark Buckberry
Date: July 14, 2015
Van Buren Township police officers have a demanding and difficult job. Assigned to protecting our resources and serving our citizens, they have prestige and face danger at the same time. A command officer has the responsibility of ensuring fellow police officers’ conduct duties in the best interest of citizens. They also must ensure their officers are adhering to organizational policies. Additionally, they must communicate departmental procedures and ensure officers under their command are properly trained in public safety. A command officer must always have the concerns of fellow officers as a top priority and are instrumental in helping officers complete their jobs successfully and safely.
As command officers, we take on added duties and responsibilities. Some of these duties and responsibilities include:
We provide officers with clear, written guidelines on policies and procedures. In order to keep officers on the right track, we make sure they know what is expected of them by providing clear and detailed guidance. Command officers are responsible for making sure officers follow local ordinances and state and federal laws, as well. We must assure that all officers have access to written codes of law as well as internal policy manuals with clear rules.
Keep organized, detailed records and reports. Command officers’ duties can vary, depending on the nature of their assignment, but some common areas supervisors need to document include internal investigations and writing reports on a variety of topics, including criminal cases and policy changes. As a supervisor, it is also our duty to make sure officers keep accurate, detailed records of their investigations and cases.
Command officers’ train and guide officers to help them follow procedures. It is important for officers to be aware of how to handle all cases and situations that manifest during the course of police work. We keep officers updated on policy changes by distributing written or online memos outlining any changes as they occur.
Command officers’ coordinate who handles which cases and investigations and oversee cases to make sure they are handled effectively and in accordance with the law. As a police supervisor, we play a significant role in the department’s success, as we assign officers to cases and evaluate any problems that may arise as cases are handled. Command officers also step in and offer guidance and support, or warnings and reprimands as needed.
At some point in their career, most police officers aspire to be promoted. To obtain these goals they must pass a comprehensive written test and oral board examination. Only those who have demonstrated their abilities through hard work and dedication become successful. Officers must achieve a minimum of 3 years as a police officer to test for the rank of Sergeant, 2 years as a Sergeant to test for Lieutenant, and 2 years as a Lieutenant to test for Captain.
Van Buren Township Police Department has only been a “true” full time department since 2002. The department is relatively small and has had staffing levels between 30 to 40 sworn members. Current members within the Command Unit were never given an opportunity for promotion until 2004. It should be noted that the entire command unit, prior to 2004, were all members of the Patrol Unit and contributed to the Patrol/Dispatch pension. It was not until after 2004 that these members slowly became promoted to either sergeant and/or lieutenant that they entered the Command Unit. It should also be noted that all command officers that were in the Command Unit prior to 2004 have retired and are no longer employed with the department and are collecting a pension through the MERS command pension. The only exceptions to this are Greg Laurain who has frozen his pension while employed as the Director of Public Safety and Frederick Yono and Keith Smyth who voluntarily dropped back to the Patrol Unit and are now collecting a MERS patrol pension.
For the current command officers, their pensions are their life savings. They began employment with Van Buren Township as a “police officer” and originally contributed to the MERS patrol pension. They all knew that taking a promotion and entering the MERS command pension would have some negative ramifications. The command pension does allow for an E-2, cost of living, and the employee’s contribution rate would be slightly higher than that of the patrol pension. Sergeants currently make 14.5% above a patrol officer and lieutenants make 9% above a sergeant. These percentage increases helped offset the negative ramifications between the two pensions.
The MERS pension fund was established to facilitate and organize the investment of employees’ retirement funds contributed by the employer and employees. The pension fund is a common asset pool meant to generate stable growth over the long term, and provide pensions for employees when they reach the end of their working years and commence retirement. Retirees have a defined benefit based on the number of years they worked and their compensation at the end of their career. Employees with a large ending salary and lengthy service will receive a higher pension that generally continues until they die, regardless of how much was contributed during their working years. Per the CBA the employer contributes 12% and is capped at that rate. Employees in both the Patrol/Dispatch Unit and Command Unit are required to contribute a minimum of 5% however, are responsible for any additional percentage above that of 17%. In 2005 the employees’ contribution rate for members of the Command Unit was 6.25% while the Patrol/Dispatch Unit was 5%. Each and every year the Command Units contribution percentage has increased. Employees in the Command Unit are currently contributing 12.26% while employees in the Patrol/Dispatch Unit are contributing 5.85%.
On Wednesday, July 8, 2015 the Patrol/Dispatch Unit, Command Unit, and township officials met with representatives from MERS. During the course of this meeting MERS provided new actuaries which will take effect on January 1, 2016. The new actuary will require employees of the Command Unit to contribute 15.45% and employees of the Patrol/Dispatch Unit to contribute 6.96%. MERS representatives further indicated that contribution rates for both Command and Patrol/Dispatch Units will continue to increase for at least the next 5 to 6 years if not longer.
During the meeting with MERS there were several factors identified as an impact on these actuaries.
• Poor investment returns in 2007 & 2008
• Over the past several years the employer has reduced the number of employees in the Command Unit which has reduced the amount of contributions into MERS.
• Since the inception of the Command Units pension, MERS has had an unfunded balance which was established by the originating members/employees who are no longer contributing to the pension system. Those originating members are now separated from the township and are collecting pensions, which are being funded by current members who were originally contributing to the MERS patrol pension.
• Upon entering the MERS pension system Ernie Thornsbury, a Command Unit member, was not required to contribute 100% of his Manulife retirement monies into MERS which every other employee in the Patrol/Dispatch & Command Units were required. Ernie Thornsbury instead gave 50% of his Manulife monies to his ex-wife as part of a divorce settlement. Ernie Thornsbury still received his past service credit however, this action greatly contributed to the underfunding of the MERS pension.
Up until recently officers were able to overlook the fact that the Patrol/Dispatch Units pension was far superior to that of the Command Units. Officers continued to test and accept promotions with the department because, at the time, these short falls and disparity in pensions could be over shadowed by the wage increases once promoted as a command officer. It wasn’t until recently that cost has grown to the point where it has become cumbersome and over-burdensome to the employee/command officer. We want to get back to reasonable retirement contribution rates. Pension and health-care costs have been consuming a greater and greater portion of the employee/command officers’ wages.
The Command Units CBA expired on December 31, 2013. The bargaining unit has attempted to negotiate provisions that would help reduce the high percentages that they are currently paying. The township, being capped at 12%, has refused to entertain and/or negotiate any provisions that would offer relief to Command Unit members. Township employees agreed to allow the employer to institute AMERIPLAN which reduced health care costs for the township. Command officers also received no wage increases for the CBA period of 2010 to 2014 yet the township refuses to entertain and/or assist with the increasing pension costs which are solely the burden of the employee/command officer.
Because of the financial burden and hardship imposed on each and every command officer, it is with great regret that we are requesting to be voluntarily demoted and transferred back into the Patrol Unit. I have spoken with each and every command officer and we understand that per the Patrol/Dispatch Units CBA we will be required to pay the Command Units percentage rate for 2 years. This decision was not easy however; the disparity in “take home wages” compared to that of a patrol officer has made it intolerable. We have families to provide for and beginning in 2016 and beyond, patrol officers will “take home” equal and/or more monies than that of the majority of the Command Unit members. It is also clear that within the next several years patrol officers will, more than likely, take home more money than any command officer. The added responsibility, stress, liability, reduced overtime potential, limitation on specialty assignments and ability to work desired shifts based on seniority are no longer worth the sacrifices we were once committed to. The township’s unwillingness to help resolve and/or provide some relief to the situation has solely contributed to this request.
Simply speaking, the township’s lack of concern and unwillingness to assist their command officers has caused a dramatic decline in our morale. WE NO LONGER WISH TO BE A PART OF THE COMMAND UNIT UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES.
Lt. M. Buckberry
POLC Command Unit President
Van Buren Township Police Department
To: Director G. Laurain &