Public safety agencies from coast to coast are now facing emergencies within their own ranks - keeping up their staffing levels. With each wave of retirements, or even just people leaving public safety jobs for other fields, many places need help replenishing their ranks. In response, some departments are offering opportunities for retired members to return to work.
Springfield, MO adopted a plan in 2021 to allow certain retired city police officers to return to the department. These members could become eligible for additional pension and healthcare benefits. As a result, at least four retired officers have returned to the force since 2022.
Elsewhere, in Missouri, Joplin officials have discussed offering opportunities for certain current police officers and firefighters to retire from their positions and immediately return to their departments. Several dozen present police and fire members are eligible to retire under an older pension plan but would "come back" in a new retirement system. They'd be able to collect pensions under the old system while still getting paid and contributing to the new pension system. Employees who have previously retired could be eligible to be rehired into the new pension system, but at positions with lower ranks and pay than they left.
Legislation has been proposed in Pennsylvania to address statewide manpower shortages. In 2015, the Philadelphia Police Department had more than 7,500 sworn and civilian personnel. By 2022, the department had 1,000 fewer people. A plan has been proposed to bring back eligible officers who would continue to receive retirement benefits while once again earning a paycheck.
Faced with around 600 officers expected to leave over the next year, Los Angeles officials have discussed plans to try to bring back as many as 200 retired officers. These officers would have to be ones that recently left the department and still have valid training certificates. These officers would once again receive a salary but not additional vacation time, health, or retirement benefits.
New Jersey passed a law in November 2016 that created a new type of law enforcement officer position for school security. These Class Three Special Law Enforcement Officers (SLEOs) can be hired to provide protection at public or nonpublic schools when they are in session or occupied by students or staff. They can also be employed at the state's county colleges.
Class Three SLEOs must be retired law enforcement officers, less than 65 years of age, who previously served as fully-trained, full-time police officers in New Jersey. They must have served as a full-time officer within three years of their appointment into these new roles. Once appointed, they must complete a training course for school resource officers. These officers have full police powers and are permitted to carry firearms while on duty. But they may only be hired part-time and are prohibited from receiving additional health or retirement benefits.
Some places, such as Washington, DC, allow retired police officers to be rehired in temporary roles, typically during emergencies or special situations. Many places considered plans like these during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many agencies were experiencing unprecedented staffing shortages due to illness or exposure. For example, New Jersey passed a law allowing "certain public employees during the public health hazard posed by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)" to be temporarily rehired. In addition, some have called for systems to be created to recall certain public safety officers back to duty via a National Guard-type system when specific emergency circumstances exist.
Is creating systems to bring back retired members a sustainable and viable solution to solving the staffing crises that many public safety agencies face? Probably not. But can devising ways to get experienced police officers and firefighters back into certain short-term roles exist as ways to help with emergent special situations? It could certainly be something worth looking into.
Jim Aleski is a 25-year fire service veteran and career engine company Lieutenant in the Philadelphia metro area. Jim serves as a Branding and Content Specialist at NEP Services and formerly served as the Communications/Social Media Director for the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey (PFANJ), the state affiliate of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). Prior to becoming a career firefighter, Jim responded as a volunteer while working for more than a decade as a media producer. Jim was involved in the production of hundreds of national TV commercials, network branding campaigns, music videos, and corporate communication projects. Jim holds a BS in Mass Communications from Emerson College and earned a MS in Fire and Emergency Management Administration from Oklahoma State University.