With an unusual number of retirements scheduled to take effect in the new year, the Union prefers to concentrate on additional instead of subtraction when the key manpower number emerges.
Today, the most-oft-quoted number in a numbers game that features the historically undermanned Houston Police Department is 350 – the probable number of new cadets in the five classes earmarked for the next one-year period.
“We’re hoping that the additional cadet classes more than keep up with the loss of manpower from the 124 who signed up for retirement at the December phase down meeting,” HPOU President Ray Hunt said. “If each cadet class operates at its maximum capacity, we will more than make up for the retirements, many of which have resulted from pension recalculations.”
With pension reform the utmost law enforcement issue in the upcoming Legislature, many of the 124 who have thus far taken the steps to retire before July 1 did so to preserve their full benefit without the possibility of lower monthly pensions should reform measures pass.
Hunt has often pointed out that it’s perfectly understandable why long-time HPD veterans, particularly those with more than 30 years’ experience, would make the wisest financial consideration. To do so required them to plan a retirement date prior to July 1, recognized as the effective date of any new pension legislation.
Police Chief Art Acevedo told the Badge & Gun he is extremely optimistic that we could have as many as seven cadet classes. Meanwhile, he said he plans to use the vast “salary savings” from the retirements of many 30-years-plus veterans for an appropriate overtime schedule.
The last time a larger-than-usual attrition rate seriously affected HPD manpower then-Mayor Bob Lanier instituted what grew to be called “the 655 program,” paying enough overtime to place the equivalent of 655 police officers on the streets before new cadet classes replenished the HPD roster.
Acevedo, who has demonstrated a high level of optimism and enthusiasm during his first months as HPD’s new chief, said it’s too early to quote numbers, but stressed that he wants to make overtime opportunities convenient to all officers with duty stations all over the city.
The major point came in response to rumors that officers willing to work overtime might have to travel “from Kingwood to Southeast” in order to take advantage of overtime opportunities.
The chief emphasized that once any overtime program is implemented it would affect every station and be convenient to all officers, no matter what their normal duty station.
Hunt pointed out that while pension recalculations obviously affected more potential retirees than normal, “many of those people who signed up to retire were on the fence about when they wanted to retire.”
Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that a recalculation based on any new law would lower monthly pension payments resulted in getting some veterans over that proverbial fence.
Sgt. John Pohlman ranks No. 1 in HPD seniority with 48 years on the force, the last 42 in Narcotics. Pohlman said he actually decided to retire in 2017 but wasn’t sure exactly when until he made some new calculations.
“Id signed up for the phase down back in June,” he said. “I couldn’t get all my financial ducks in a row. The pension situation has pushed me over the edge about waiting past July 1. I’ll probably leave by the end of March or the end of June.
“When I did the recalculation, I lost $1,200 a month if I don’t leave by the end of June. I may stay until the past pay period in June. To be honest, the pension thing didn’t push me over the edge. It made me doggone sure I was going to leave.
“My wife reminded me that my 49-year anniversary date will be on April 26. There’s a good chance I’ll stay past that if it’s not going to cost me money in some kind of pension recalculation.”
Pohlman was grateful that HPOPS and HPOU supply effective financial advisory through Richard Gable and Brian Craft and urged anyone needing updated recalculations to make an appointment. “I’m not worried about the COLA but am worried about the recalculation about my retirement money. I understand that they will cut the COLA in half on April 2.”
Significantly, at least seven members of the HPD Command Staff have announced their plans to retire before July 1, providing Acevedo a rare opportunity to reconstitute HPD’s upper level management team. The upbeat and enthusiastic chief stressed the depth of leadership talent in the department and looks forward to the challenges ahead.
HPOU Executive Director Mark Clark also will be retiring as a senior police officer. But Clark, a key figure in Union history and the Union’s primary point man in the legislative matters, will stay on in his position.