ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota police officers and firefighters are retiring in greater numbers, apparently because of changes in the state pension rules that will take effect in July.
About 300 officers and firefighters retire each year, but for the fiscal year ending June 30 there will be an estimated 600 retirements, according to Public Employees Retirement Association of Minnesota. The group says the higher numbers reflect an increase in people who are moving up their retirement plans.
The state’s official retirement age for police and firefighters is 55, although they can retire as early as age 50 with a financial penalty for each early year. Under the new law, though, people retiring after June 30 will see the financial penalty for early retirement rise from 1.2 percent per year to 5 percent per year for most members.
That change has contributed to waves of retirements, which could lead to staffing shortages at police departments across the state. For example, 27 Minneapolis officers retired this month, or about as many as retire in an average year.
A cadet class of 32 inexperienced officers won’t be ready to begin field training until around Labor Day, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
In St. Paul, the police department has an authorized strength of 615 officers, but as of Sunday there were 581 officers. The next police academy starts in September, but in the meantime officers on other assignments may be called upon to respond to emergency calls, police Chief Thomas Smith said.
“We want to make sure that we have enough officers out on the street to answer 911 calls, so we may move some people around temporarily,” Smith told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Similar situations are playing out elsewhere across the state. Six deputies have retired from the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office — as many as retired in all of last year. In Blaine, which averages one retirement per year, four of its 60 officers have retired.
Not all departments are seeing a rise in the number of retirements, but several are still bracing for departures.
In Anoka County, for example, there’s only been one retirement this year, compared to an average of three or four annually, but officials worry that employees might leave to fill vacancies elsewhere.
“They might be looking for better pay or sometimes people have a dream of working a particular place,” said Cmdr. Paul Sommer a sheriff’s spokesman.
(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)