Phoenix – Police and fire departments across Arizona will face a wave of retirements from some of its most experienced employees beginning next summer.
The retirements are expected to leave the agencies scrambling to fill the spots but also could offer opportunities to add more women and minorities to the ranks.
Nearly 1,400 police and firefighters across the state will retire by April 30, 2010. Nearly 10 percent of those will retire on June 30, 2006.
“I’d be lying if I said it was going to be easy to compensate for the loss of experience,” Phoenix Assistant Fire Chief Bob Khan said. “It’s definitely taken a toll on the system.”
The retirements are the first wave from the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program, which gave public safety workers an incentive to stay on the job longer and saved cities money.
The program lets officers take retirement after 20 years, then stay for up to five more years. Anyone taking the option is barred from drawing retirement benefits until leaving the department.
The benefits that normally would be paid go into a holding account and are paid in a lump sum, with interest, when the beneficiary quits working.
Under the program, seasoned officers and firefighters stay around longer, and the state doesn’t have to contribute to the retirement system on their behalf after 20 years.
The first police officers and firefighters who took the option and stayed the full five years will retire on June 30, 2006.
Even though the first wave of retirements is still a year away, many departments have begun gearing up for the transition by training replacements for key positions and pre-hiring officers and firefighters to prevent gaps in service.
Hardest hit initially will be Phoenix and the state Department of Public Safety. Phoenix police will lose 69 people in two months; the DPS, 22.
In Mesa, 40 percent of the Fire Department will be eligible to retire within the next five years, the first time in the agency’s history that so many people have been poised to leave. The agency will be forced to mass-hire, something it hasn’t had to do in 20 years.
From June 2006 to February 2010, 62 police officers and firefighters in west metropolitan Phoenix will retire. All but 17 will be from the Glendale Police and Fire departments.
Phoenix’s Fire Department will lose 71 people in 2006, and police will see 103 retire. In 2007, 38 more firefighters and 63 more police officers will retire.
Tempe’s Fire Department has about 24 people in Deferred Retirement Option Program with a dozen leaving in the first wave. That dozen represents a significant amount of the city’s force, about 10 percent of people on the line.