The Challenges Facing Conservatives Who Support Public Safety

Everyone supports public safety, but conservatives are a special case. In modern times, it was conservatives, reacting against the rebellious sixties and the lawless seventies, who supported law enforcement when it was fashionable for liberals to see them as pawns of a discredited establishment. It was also during the 1960’s and ’70’s that we saw public safety unions acquire far more political power and influence, a rise fueled in part by an entirely justifiable resentment they felt at how they were treated by the media and in popular culture.

It’s a different world now. The riots of the sixties and the crime waves of the seventies have been replaced by new threats. Now we have global terrorist groups with access to new technologies that can unleash destruction at a scale unimaginable a generation ago. We have organized crime of unprecedented sophistication; drug cartels, cyber criminals, modern-day slavery networks. The United States, statistically, is a safer place than it’s ever been, but it doesn’t feel that way, and continual reminders at home and abroad reinforce these feelings of insecurity.

Conservatives have traditionally focused on prioritizing law and order for good reasons. They understand that when crime directly affects an individual, often with tragic consequences, all the statistics that prove we are safer than ever become meaningless. Conservatives understand this without having to necessarily have personally experienced the trauma of crime or conflagration. Their empathy, powerful and enduring, extends both to the victims who need protection, and to those individuals who risk their lives to perform jobs in public safety.

Along with supporting law and order, however, conservatives also cherish the values of financial sustainability and organizational efficiency. Moreover, conservatives are as zealous as conscientious liberals when it comes to supporting individual rights and fighting corruption. And for these reasons, while conservatives may support the institutions of public safety and the individuals who work in public safety, they can find themselves objecting to the power and influence of the unions that represent public safety.

The challenge facing conservatives who support public safety comes down to this: The unions that represent police and firefighters have the same problematic essence as every other union representing government workers. They use massive amounts of taxpayer-sourced money – more than $1.0 billion in dues collected each year by state and local government unions just in California – to elect the politicians who they then “negotiate” with. There are no natural checks on how much they can ask for in pay and benefits, because unlike unions in the private sector, they don’t work for organizations that have to earn a precarious profit by convincing consumers to voluntarily buy their product in a competitive market. They are a monopoly. And, of course, they can use government itself to intimidate their critics, especially business interests who might otherwise oppose their agenda.

It’s hard to do, but conservatives who want to get taxes and spending under control in the cities and counties where they live are going to have to differentiate between their respect for men and women in uniform, and the agenda of the unions who represent them. They will have to confront a fundamental union premise, that pay and benefits must always rise, and can never fall to reflect economic realities and other service priorities.

If conservatives want to fight corruption, they are going to have to stand up to the unions who make it difficult if not impossible to discipline or fire that small minority of public safety employees – inevitably found in any large organization of any kind – who are criminals or incompetents.

And if conservatives want to slow the growth of government and the growth of burdensome regulations that have made California among the most difficult states in America to run a business or afford a home, they have to recognize that more laws means more law enforcement – for things that go well beyond public safety, yet represent more power and influence for public safety unions.

For their part, members of public safety unions, and their leadership, might try to remember that the issues where some conservatives may disagree with the union agenda are not as significant as the issues where they agree. And they might acknowledge that opposition to parts of their political agenda, or calls to restrict the bargaining scope of their union, or even calls to abolish their union altogether, do not signify a lack of respect, support or empathy for the men and women of law enforcement.

 *   *   *

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.


San Jose City Council Capitulates to Police Union Power, August 18, 2015

Can Unionized Police Be Held Accountable for Misconduct?, June 23, 2015

Pension Reformers are not “The Enemy” of Public Safety, April 20, 2015

Police Unions in America, December 9, 2014

How Much Does Professionalism Cost?, March 11, 2014

Conservative Politicians and Public Safety Unions, May 13, 2014



19 replies
  1. Avatar
    Larry Littlefield says:

    The problem of conservatives who support public safety is no different than the problem of liberals who support health care and education. And in each case the result has been a sellout.

    California, however, hardly has it the worst in the U.S. New York City has 2.8 times as many police officers per 100,000 residents as the U.S. average. And with a full pension after 20 years (22 for new hires), far more retired officers than those working.

    And yet the police union continues to threaten to stop protecting New Yorkers unless they get more money, more officers, and more retirement benefits. With the support of Republican state legislators from the suburbs, where all of the officers live.

    And no one ever, ever brings up how many officers NYC has compared with other places. Not even “progressive” Mayor DeBlasio, who is fighting with the police and corrections unions on other issues.

  2. Avatar
    S Moderation Douglas says:

    What is a “full pension after 20 years”? I thought it was half pay plus $12,000.

  3. Avatar
    Tough Love says:

    In Public Sector Safety positions (typically Police & fire, corrections, “full pension after 20 years” means being able to collect an actuarially UNREDUCED (or FULL) pension after only 20 years years of service …. regardless of the attained age at that time ….. sometimes in the mid and even early 40’s.

    In the Private Sector, if you retire before your “Normal Retirement Age” (NRA), typically age 65 (but sometimes 62 with 30+ service years) your otherwise calculated “formula benefit” pension will TYPICALLY be reduced by about 5% PER YEAR OF AGE that you retire before your NRA.

    For example, if your Plan’s NRA is age 65, and you elect to retire at age 55, your “formula benefit” will be reduced by 5% x (65-55) = 50%. The Police Office would get no reduction at all.

    That difference …. PUBLIC Sector workers being able to retire at MUCH younger ages WITHOUT ANY actuarial reduction in their pension, is a HUGE financial advantage, heavily contributing to the FACT that Public Sector Safety worker pensions are ROUTINELY 4 to 6 times greater in value at retirement than those of similarly situated (in pay, age at retirement, and years of service) Private Sector workers in jobs with comparable risks and requirements as to education, experience, knowledge, and skills.

  4. Avatar
    S Moderation Douglas says:

    Just so people don’t get the wrong idea, a NYC cop making $90,000 a year who retires at 20 years with a “full pension” will get $45k per year, not $90k.

  5. Avatar
    Tough Love says:


    Yes, but you neglected to mention that if that officer is age 45 at the time of retirement, that OFFICER’S pension would NOT be reduced (by even 1 penny) from the calculated $45,000 annually,….. while EVEN IF a Private Sector Worker had the SAME per-year-of-service formula factor (2.5% in the case of a 50% pension after 20 years) his/her NRA (Full/Unreduced retirement age) would CERTAINTY be no less than age 62, and even if ALLOWED to retire at age 45, and earning the SAME pay, that Private Sector worker’s otherwise calculated pensions would likely be REDUCED by 75% (for being allowed to begin collecting that pensions 17 years prior to his/her NRA of 62) ……. hence meaning that the NYC Officer’s pensions has a “value” 4 times greater than that of the comparable Private Sector worker.

    Public Sector workers are NOT “special” and deserving of a better deal ….on the Taxpayers’ dime.

    EQUAL ….. but NOT better.

  6. Avatar
    S Moderation Douglas says:

    Moderation neglected nothing. When some (most?) people read that safety workers receive a “full pension after 20 years”, they assume he will receive full final salary …for the rest of his life!!!

    Not true.

    NYC has a rather complicated formula, but basically can retire after 20 years at 50% of pay …just like the military. ” Twenty and out” is a fairly common safety retirement. One could understand the outrage if people suffered from the misapprehension that a NYC policeman retired at 40 with a $90,000 pension.

    Moderation is just trying to clear up that confusion.

  7. Avatar
    Tough Love says:


    Oh and Taxpayers do NOT suffer “outrage” when they are called upon to pay for a Public Sector pension (that is in THIS example) is 4 TIMES* greater in value upon retirement (at age 45) that that of a similarly situated Private Sector worker ?


    * Actually, the multiple greater than 4 times because while the Police Officer’s pension would be COLA-increased, the Private Sector worker’s pension would not ….. increasing that multiple to between 5 to 6 times greater.

  8. Avatar
    S Moderation Douglas says:

    “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
    Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
    And by opposing end them. To die—to sleep,
    No more; and by a sleep to say we end
    The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
    That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
    Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
    To sleep, perchance to dream—ay, there’s the rub:…”

  9. Avatar
    Tough Love says:

    Not bad for someone whose job functions included changing light bulbs.

    Too bad. Perhaps you missed your calling …….. after the passing Of the past incumbent, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. appointed Dana Gioia as California Poet Laureate on December 4, 2015.

    But I would suspect that honor is bestowed upon those who write original poetry, not those who quote William Shakespeare (Hamlet).

  10. Avatar
    S Moderation Douglas says:

    Mayhaps….. taxpayers suffer “outrage” in part because they actually believe the exaggerations and misunderstandings they see on some of these blogs:


    “Tough Love says:
    December 19, 2012 at 9:05 pm
    No Douglas, ALL full career cops & firemen in CA cities (regardless of rank) retire with $100+K pensions ….. but you already knew that , didn’t you ?”

    (Not true)

    ” Tough Love says:
    December 19, 2012 at 10:58 pm
    Douglas, Don’t play dumb.
    just about all CURRENTLY retiring cops and firemen retire with $100+K pensions”

    (Still not true)

    “Tough Love says:
    December 20, 2012 at 8:14 am
    Douglas, I was more referring to city/town Police & fire pensions, not not those of State retirees.”

    (Sorry, still not true. Not true in 2012. Not true in 2016)

    Duh!!! Maybe all left handed red haired cops have $100,000 pensions. Let me check that and get back to you. LOL

    Slings and arrows. “4 TIMES* greater in value upon retirement” is …still… meaningless and inflammatory. The only logical comparison is total compensation. There are four major studies. Three say that public workers are “roughly equal” to private workers (on average) The fourth says that public workers have a 10% advantage. ….23% + in NJ, CA, IL, etc. All these studies rely on data up to eight years old. Eight very volatile years.

    If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a million times; don’t exaggerate!!!

  11. Avatar
    Tough Love says:

    Quoting ….”“Tough Love says:
    December 19, 2012 at 9:05 pm
    No Douglas, ALL full career cops & firemen in CA cities (regardless of rank) retire with $100+K pensions ….. but you already knew that , didn’t you ?”

    (Not true)”

    Oh please …. a full “career” is 30 years, and in CA, Police get 90% of final pay. What retiring CA Police Officer doesn’t have pensionable pay of AT LEAST 100,000/0.90 = $111,111 ?


    Slings and arrows. “4 TIMES* greater in value upon retirement” is …still… meaningless and inflammatory.

    Your right, in CA it’s ALMOST ALWAYS 5 to 6 times greater in “value at retirement” when considering;

    (a) Police per-year of service factors …. ROUTINELY DOUBLE those of even the better Private Sector Plans … giving a 2.0 multiple vs Private Sector Plans

    (b) unreduced retirement at VERY young age, as low as 50, but OFTEN by 55 (with 30 years) …. also DOUBLING the value of the Private Sector worker who can rarely get an unreduced pension before age 65 ….. again, giving a 2.0 multiple vs Private Sector Plans

    (c) COLA increases (unheard of in Private Sector Plans) increasing the “value” of the Officer’s pension by another 30%…. giving a 1.30 multiple vs Private Sector Plans

    Put those incremental multiples together, and the 30-year career CA Police Officer’s pension is ROUTINELY (yes ROUTINELY) 2.0 x 2.0 x 1.3 = 5.2 TIMES greater in “value at retirement” than that of the Private Sector worker who retires at the SAME time, with the SAME pay, the SAME years of service, and at the SAME age.

    Mr. Ring sometimes let’s you slide with your endless misstatements, distortions, mischaracterizations, omissions of fact, and outright BS. I won’t

  12. Avatar
    S Moderation Douglas says:

    “Eight very volatile years”

    If you read Bender and Heywood “Out of balance? Comparing Public and Private Sector
    Compensation over 20 Years”

    You will see that the difference between public and private wages alone can change dramatically (as much as ten percent)from year to year. And those are relatively normal years, with relatively normal business cycles.

    Although obviously not enough to satisfy you, there have been major reductions in pensions and benefits since 2008, and who knows what the average difference in wages might be. We do not know what the “average” difference in compensation is today.

    From all the studies, we do know three things, undeniably:

    1) Public sector janitors earn much more than private sector janitors.

    2) Public sector doctors and lawyers earn much less than the private sector.

    3) 1, and 2, are universally true throughout all OECD countries, and unlikely to change until long after thee and me have shuffled off this mortal coil.

    (Hamlet, again)

    California State Controllers Office:

    Police officer Sacramento: $61,262 – $74,465 regular pay range for classification

    Police officer Fresno, CA: $60,876 – $77,724 regular pay range for classification

    Police officer 3 San Francisco, CA: $85,514 – $118,898 regular pay range for classification

    There you go. The “Bergen County” of California (these are 2014 figures) in San Francisco, where the cost of living is 164% of average, full career “Street cops probably get $100,000 + pensions.

  13. Avatar
    S Moderation Douglas says:


    It’s difficult to cull the “full career” pension data from Transparent California. According to Mr. Fellner, though:

    “The data reveals the average pension for a full-career retiree of the Fresno Police and Fire Retirement System was $70,627, while the average full-career retiree of the Fresno Employees’ Retirement System received$39,644.”

    (“How the City of Fresno dodged the pension tsunami: providing comfortable, but not exorbitant benefits”, Transparent California, March 10, 2015)

  14. Avatar
    Tough Love says:

    Quoting ….”2) Public sector doctors and lawyers earn much less than the private sector. ”

    Have you looked into What CA prison Psychiatrists and Dentists have been making ? A Sector Doctors would kill for that compensation.

    Quoting ….

    “Police officer Sacramento: $61,262 – $74,465 regular pay range for classification

    Police officer Fresno, CA: $60,876 – $77,724 regular pay range for classification

    Police officer 3 San Francisco, CA: $85,514 – $118,898 regular pay range for classification”

    You challenged that …. “ALL full career cops & firemen in CA cities (regardless of rank) retire with $100+K pensions” …. but you quote NOT the pensionable pay upon retirement to 30-year-service officers, but averages of ALL-duration, LOWEST-LEVEL officers.

    Is that the same ? NO
    Is you response meant to mislead? YES.

  15. Avatar
    Tough Love says:

    Quoting ……

    ““The data reveals the average pension for a full-career retiree of the Fresno Police and Fire Retirement System was $70,627”

    Might be true …. because it likely include retired Officers 70, 80, and 90 years old who retired 20, 30, and 40 years ago.

    I’ll classify that as just MORE of your ongoing attempt to mislead. You’d be hard pressed to find a 30-year service CA Police year-2015 retiree with less than a $100K annual pension.

  16. Avatar
    Tough Love says:

    WSJ may require a subscription to open the full article.

    If the above-linked FULL article doesn’t open, GOOGLE it and choose the top link.

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