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Lower risk jobs get high pension

Senior school security officers are certified to make arrests, but unwritten policy stops them from doing so. Some say being qualified justifies higher benefits.

By SARAH SCHWEITZER

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 17, 2000


TAMPA -- When the Legislature created a special enhanced pension for firefighters, police officers and emergency medical workers, the intent was to reward men and women whose jobs require an extra measure of physical and mental sacrifice.

The prerequisites for law enforcement officers were straightforward: law enforcement certification by the state and duties that include the pursuit, apprehension and arrest of law violators.

In Hillsborough County, 18 senior school security officers enjoy the special risk pension -- which bumps up pension payments and allows for earlier retirement -- yet all have been directed by school officials not to make arrests, despite their capacity to do so.

The unwritten, longstanding policy of the security agency is to allow outside agencies, such as the Tampa Police Department and Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, to make all arrests.

"In my seven-year tenure, there have been no arrests," said David Friedberg, head of the school security system who himself does not receive the extra pension money. "It's been the School Board policy that we don't effect arrests."

The rationale, Friedberg said, is that by avoiding jail runs, school security officers have more time to patrol the schools.

The cost for taxpayers of paying the special risk pension to the 18 eligible security officers is not available since the Division of Retirement has not yet calculated each of their pensions.

But the case of Wayne Dasinger, the professional standards manager who requested an estimation of his retirement benefits in 1998, is illustrative.

Dasinger, who makes $63,633 a year, will earn an estimated annual pension of $39,124 if he retires in 2003 with 30.33 years of service. Had he not been eligible for the special pension, he would have earned an estimated $25,994 in annual pension benefits.

Dasinger declined comment.

Across the state, 55,000 of the 600,000 members of the Florida Retirement System are eligible for the special risk pension. Questions about eligibility for the special risk pension, officials say, arise frequently.

State officials recently reviewed the Hillsborough County school security officers' pensions and found no problem with their eligibility.

"The ones that were approved, their job titles require that they make arrests," said Sarabeth Snuggs, the chief of the Bureau of Enrollment and Contributions at the Department of Management Services' Division of Retirement.

The fact they don't make arrests as a matter of policy, she said, has no bearing on the pension issue.

"It's just like a firefighter," Snuggs said. "If they never fight a fire, that doesn't mean they're not firefighters."

School officials echo the thought, saying security officers should be eligible for the special pension because while they make no arrests, they could make arrests.

"They are empowered to do so, they are eligible to do so," Friedberg said. "They just haven't done so."

But some question such thinking, saying duties required on a piece of paper and duties performed are two separate things.

"If they can't make an arrest, then it sounds like they are on shaky grounds," said David Murrell, the executive director of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, some of whose members contribute to the Florida Retirement System. "Sounds like it's gray at a minimum."

Pinellas County's campus police, who perform a similar function to Hillsborough's school security officers and some of whom are eligible for the special pension, regularly make arrests.

Last school year, the 20 officers eligible for the pension made 293 felony and misdemeanor arrests, according to Ron Stone, spokesman for the Pinellas County school district.

The primary duties of the Hillsborough security officers who received the special pension in Hillsborough run the gamut, but in some cases, are heavy on office tasks. Dasinger, the professional standards manager, oversees investigators, reviews investigations, investigates misconduct, reviews job applications and maintains investigative statistics.

Mike Saia, the senior professional standards investigator who is paid $45,000 a year, investigates allegations of employee misconduct, reviews applicant arrest histories, investigates arrested employee issues, develops training manuals and trains new staff.

Norman Henderson, the senior school special investigator who is paid $37,000 a year, supervises security personnel, trains personnel, investigates employee misconduct, responds to calls for service and reviews accuracy of offense reports.

In contrast, the bulk of security officers whose primary responsibility is to patrol the school grounds receive no special risk benefits because they are not required to have law enforcement certification.

Friedberg said the special risk pension was justified for the senior officers by stint of their certification. Those officers, he said, could be called upon to make an arrest at any moment. And even though they never make arrests, he said, they are frequently thrust into detaining violators until an arresting officer arrives.

"While the criminal report affidavit is not completed by the officer," he said. "Everything up to that point is handled by our officers. And the number of those situations is countless."

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