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Police brace for retirement wave

Agencies are scrambling to replace scores of senior officers retiring under the DROP program that starts in spring 2003.

By AMY HERDY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2001


TAMPA -- Local law enforcement and fire rescue agencies are preparing for a wave of retirement that will take with it scores of experienced employees.

The Tampa Police Department will lose 86 officers, and the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office 87 deputies when the full impact of a change in state retirement law hits home.

"My biggest concern is the upper management rank, what I would consider good leaders," said Tampa police Chief Bennie Holder, who plans to retire by 2003 along with 41 other ranking officers that include his assistant chief, a deputy chief and two majors.

Holder is asking for an additional $1.7-million in his budget for the coming fiscal year to recruit and train replacements.

"If I get the money, I feel confident we can hire good, qualified people," Holder said.

Changes in 1998 created the Deferred Retirement Option Plan provided to employees with 25 to 30 years of service.

Participants agree to stop paying into retirement plans for up to five years while their employer no longer contributes to their pension.

The contributions are pooled and invested until the employee retires and collects the money accrued.

The first wave of DROP retirees is set for spring 2003, and most agencies are putting contingency plans in place.

"You're going to be hiring to fill the deputies who leave, plus the promotions up the chain," said Hillsborough sheriff's Col. Daron Diecidue, who said his agency will lose 87 street deputies to the state's DROP program by 2004.

The glut of openings will generate competition for qualified applicants.

But officials are confident they can fill the jobs without lowering standards.

Tampa police require a minimum of 60 hours of college education, law enforcement certification, a clean criminal history and strong references for a job that starts at $34,236 a year.

"This job is not for someone who just wants to come in and wear a badge and a gun," Holder said.

Tampa Fire Rescue Capt. Bill Wade, whose agency stands to lose 62 people to the city's DROP plan by July 2003, including 32 captains, said the department understands the importance of having experienced employees.

"Our plan at this point is to do mentoring so the leadership will be relatively seamless," he said. "Unfortunately, it will drain the bottom."

- Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or herdy@sptimes.com.

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