DALLAS (CBS11) – This may be the first day of Spring, but Dallas police associations say they worry about the summer, when crime usually increases.
But police associations say this year could be a bigger problem with officers continuing to retire or leave to work at other area police departments.
The associations believe the police and fire pension financial crisis is to blame, and they worry officer attrition is another part of the crisis still growing worse.
Sr. Cpl. Jeff Ell is retiring from the Dallas Police Department Tuesday after 30 years on the force.
“You know it’s very bittersweet,” Ell says.
As he lays out his uniform, ballistic vest, and gun belt on his table, he sees his badge.
When asked how tough it will be to turn it in, all Ell could do was shake his head.
He didn’t need to say a word.
But Ell is not retiring from policing.
He starts with the Lewisville Police Department Wednesday.
Ell says he’s leaving DPD because of the crisis at the police & fire pension system, which could go broke within ten years without major changes.
He says, “It was in my best interest and kind of defensively financially to leave when I did.”
Because of his years of service, the annual city pension amounts to nearly $60,000.
Now, he says he is moving forward and excited about joining Lewisville PD.
Even though he will lose his seniority and have to work nights and weekends, he says Lewisville offered him a lateral transfer, which means he will get paid the same.
Statistics show many other officers are leaving DPD.
The Dallas Police Retired Officers Association says on October 1, 2015, there were 3,572 officers at DPD.
Today, the group says there are 3217, but 188 of them are in the police academy and field training.
The authorized force remains 3,613 officers.
Some police associations worry another 500 officers could leave DPD by the end of this year.
Council members are concerned about losing officers like as Jeff Ell.
Erik Wilson says, “I’m extremely concerned anytime we lose anyone of that quality and caliber for any reason is stressful for the whole system.”
Council member Jennifer Gates says DPD is having officers work overtime to make-up the difference.
“We are continuing to put pressure on Chief Pughes at this point to figure out ways with a reduced force to keep our citizens safe.”
Pete Bailey, President of the Dallas Police Retired Officers Association says, “It is wholly financially irresponsible for the ninth largest city in America to allow any project to be considered before public safety, because that failure will eliminate all potential for economic growth.”
Council member Gates says the city recently agreed to boost pay for officers and firefighters and paramedics by $90 million over a three year period.
The police and fire associations say that money caught their members back up to pay levels they received before pay freezes during the recession.
Gates said, “We can’t make it up all in one year.”
She and Wilson hope a bill seeking to stabilize the pension fund will pass the legislature by the end of May.
They hope that will keep officers from leaving.
Ell says Dallas officers used to say while they had mediocre pay, their pension was great.
Now, he worries their pension will also be mediocre. “There’s going to be nothing to draw recruits here.”
Councilman Lee Kleinman says no one at City Hall disputes that police officers and firefighters are entitled to their pensions, but he says the pension is hardly mediocre.
Officer Ell says he helped the department grow as a field training officer or FTO. “So all those gains, 20 years worth of hard training with all the other FTO’s and myself, it’s all gone.”