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Jacksonville Police Union: Pension Woes Making Recruitment, Retention A Problem


A Jacksonville police officers' union says the ongoing police and firefighter pension woes are making it hard to recruit new officers without guaranteed benefits and hard to keep officers on the force.

Fraternal Order of Police President Steve Amos says Jacksonville Sheriff's Office’s requirement of a four-year college degree and low starting salary — just over $36,000 — makes recruitment tough. Add that to the city’s high rate of violent crime and uncertainty about pension benefits, and it’s an increasingly hard sell.

"Compared to going to some other place where the pension is more stable, it’s funded by the city properly, the starting pay is 15-20-25 percent higher. And if you have experience, they’ll pay you for experience. Tell me which one you would choose?" Amos said.

In a video" target="_blank" title="Jacksonville FOP - State of Affairs January 2015 - YouTube">posted on the union’s YouTube site, Jaron Howell discusses why he left JSO to work as a police officer in Tampa.

"Twenty years down the road when it’s time for me to retire, I wanted to make sure that I had an actual pension and something to look forward to," Howell said. "With the way things are going with the city, I couldn’t see that really happening."

According to the Mayor’s office, the city would need to come up with an additional $40 million every year to fully fund the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund under the current benefit structure.

Amos says between 75 and 80 officers left the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office in the last two years to go to other agencies.

"People are leaving for greener pastures. Up until this pension crisis started a few years ago, nobody left JSO until they retired," Amos said. "We were never a feeder agency until this mess started."

The Jacksonville City Council delayed a vote on reforming the the Police and Fire Pension Fund last night. Council President Clay Yarborough said he was worried about locking in benefit levels for a decade. Three Committees will now rework the proposal before it reaches the full Council again.

Peter Haden is an award-winning investigative reporter and photographer currently working with The Center for Investigative Reporting. His stories are featured in media outlets around the world including NPR, CNN en Español, ECTV Ukraine, USA Today, Qatar Gulf Times, and the Malaysia Star.