By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
I'm confused. We're all confused. Most people honor the cops. Dallas police officers put themselves between us and bullets. Common decency requires that we honor and respect somebody who does that for us. But what about this police pay business?
C'mere: Get in the car. I've been thinking about the police employees' political leadership, who have been down at City Hall yelling at the mayor, disrupting meetings and hammering everybody about how poor the cops are in Dallas.
Let's take a little glide around town to the parking lots at the police substations where the patrol cops park their personal cars. I'm not saying this is a scientific study or anything. I'm just trying to factor it in.
OK, we're pulling into the lot here at Northeast. I think there was a sign back there about unauthorized persons. Probably said "Unauthorized Persons Welcome" or something like that. We'll check it out later.
Whoa! That looks to me like a cherry champagne-colored Lexus, brand new! I think it's one of those LS430s. Last time I priced those for birthday presents, they were ringing up at about $48,000 to $50,000 manufacturer's suggested retail.
Hey, here's one of those cool little BMW 330 convertibles. I think they weigh in anywhere from $35,000 to $43,000 new. This one could be used; I can't tell.
Rolling by a sweet Volvo station wagon. Oooh, a cherry 'Vette. Got to be new. You have to pay a hundred-dollar premium over MSRP for these sweet things. Somebody dropped at least 44 grand on this machine.
Nice white Ford Expedition, looks fully loaded to the max and shiny-new. About 29 grand there. But who knows? Be fair. Maybe it's a year old and well-preserved with 30K on it. Could have gone for 22. But I don't think so.
Out here in a slot marked administration is a white BMW sedan. I don't think they actually sell those for money. I'm breathin' heavy after touring all this sexy metal, but I got to get on and make my rounds.
Now, I don't know about you, but in the last six months we have tried not to use the word "retirement" around our house, especially since I attempted to lighten the load by telling my wife that some of the people I see living under bridges seem quite merry.
Just for grins while we motor on up to the North Central substation, let's place a call to the Police and Fire Pension Board and see where these folks stand in regard to their golden years. And--'scuse me just a sec', will you?--I am talking to some very nice people on the cell here who are laying it out for me.
Yeah. Got it. Takin' notes, drivin' dangerously. Police officers vest in the plan at five years. They can retire at age 50. Their retirement pay is 3 percent times years of service times average annual salary figured on their best three best consecutive years. Oh, man, wait a minute. We'll get back to all that. I have been seriously distracted by a really nice-looking new black 'Vette here at North Central.
Oh, and look at this! A very nice fully loaded Honda Goldwing motorcycle. That set somebody back $17,000 or $18,000 before they even started loading on all that cool extra stuff. Man! I wonder if he's got a chemical toilet onboard? This bike weighs more than most Honda Civics.
Nice white Expedition over there. And...uh-oh. What is this? I think I am in love. A very fully loaded white Escalade. Minimum 52 large. Maybe it belongs to the lieutenant. Or the Duke of Earl.
I gotta blow this pop stand. I'm starting to get that little green man hopping around on my shoulder. So back on the road, let's head to Northwest and see if we can finish up with the pension math. City Hall provided me with some helpful numbers on average police pay. The average officer makes a salary of $56,000 a year, or a little better. He or she makes an average of $3,700 a year in departmental overtime, so total cash compensation comes to about 60 grand.
By the way, I'm at Northwest now, and I think I can handle this better. I see a lot of new Ford Explorers. That's no big deal. There's a Lexus sedan, but it looks at least 3 or 4 years old. I'm surprised somebody's not embarrassed to drive that bomb.
Oh, man. Oh, man. I was afraid of this. Harleys! The dream that broke my heart! I'm not going over there. You know, unauthorized personnel really are not allowed back there. I can't go. I just cannot look at them. There are several, and I think that first one is an Ultra Classic Electra Glide. He dropped 20 grand on that bike before the paint job.
OK, now I'm bitter. My whole life is flashing before my eyes. I'm back in high school. The counselor is asking me about my career plans. I say, as always, "local newspaper columnist." He's asking me again what that is.
Well, I had forgotten about those conversations. Maybe I did make my own bed here to some extent. Let's just try to get this bodily torture over with. We haven't made it by Southwest yet, so I'm thinking about exceeding the speed limit a little. Maybe also littering.
It's not like their salary is the only thing the city gives them. According to the numbers City Hall provided me with, that average cop pulling down $60,000 a year in pay is also making $15,000 a year in contributions to the pension plan and about five grand in other benefits, cashing him out at about 80 grand a year.
And don't tell me everybody gets benefits and pension. Of the tens of thousands of Telecom workers cashiered in the Dallas area in just the last year, many thousands will be hired back as "contract labor," meaning same job, less pay, no benefits at all.
We're at Southwest. Let's make this quick. New white Lexus, another Lexus, a Lexus SUV, a Tahoe, couple of Explorers, another Lexus, a cop behind me. Uh-oh. Hey, I'm just a lost citizen looking for the water department. He's gone. Let's see if we can get to the back of the lot. Bunch of old bad cars out here (maybe the other guys ask them to park with their own kind), nice new Acura sedan, Expedition, Suburban, very nice Chevy Avalanche (damn!), Tahoe, Honda SUV, Ford Excursion, I'm out of here. I'm losing my appetite for this. We still have to swing by Southeast and then maybe Central. I guess.
To finish the math, let's take a senior corporal like Glenn White, president of the Dallas Police Association, 48 years old, 27 years on the force, pulling down a base salary of about 63K. Let's say a senior corporal with 29 years' service retires at age 50, and his best three years average out at $63,000. By my math, his pension at age 50 is almost 55 grand a year.
I could get that from my 401(k), but at current interest rates on risk-free investments, I would need to have $1.8 million in my account. I'm going to be short. In fact, I think what I have is more like a 101(k).
I toured the other two substations, but I'm just not going to go through it with you. To tell you the truth, I'm ashamed of myself. The little green man is giving me fits.
And look, let's be fair. The way most of these police officers earn those fancy rides is by working extra jobs. We shouldn't begrudge them that. If I were a better man, I know I wouldn't. I talked to DPA vice president Eddie Crawford, and I told him it was possible certain low-life unscrupulous yellow journalists had been skulking around on police parking lots counting BMWs. And he got mad. Good and mad:
"This car-driving bullshit that I hear about constantly, it's because I work 15 hours a day. I have to work extra jobs to make ends meet. And I drive a used car, and a lot of these people drive used cars. People rent cars. People's family have some money that they throw away, and quite honestly a lot of cops get over-extended on a lot of this stuff. But the truth of this matter is that they're working two and three and sometimes four extra jobs to make ends meet."
It is the truth. We all see it. Off-duty police officers are not working at Blockbuster at night because they think it's fun. They'd rather be at home with their families. In some ways they are fortunate to have a service to offer for which people are willing to pay. The filing clerks at City Hall can't really get the topless clubs to hire them on their off-duty hours to come do topless club filing. I don't even know that the topless clubs keep files.
But the point is, cops work hard for the money they get. I have such respect for the men and women who are drawn to this work. We all do. I don't even think our argument is with the officers themselves, but more with their political leaders downtown. They just need to remember times are tough for many people, and it doesn't ring true when they hammer us about the cops being destitute.
This is where you get off, gang. I'm headed home. I need to convince my wife: With an Ultra Classic Electra Glide, that's all you really need for retirement. The passenger seats on those babies are perfectly designed for those real fast transcontinental trips when the two of you are fleeing your creditors.