Miami-Dade County

Retirements add to hiring need for Miami-Dade police

A Miami-Dade police car at a crime scene in this 2014 file photo.
A Miami-Dade police car at a crime scene in this 2014 file photo. Miami Herald

At Miami-Dade’s police department, the ranks are getting ready for significant churn.

Almost one in 10 of current full-time employees are set to retire within five years, the highest portion among the county’s largest agencies. The impending retirements coincide with the department ramping up efforts to reverse past cutbacks, with two classes of cadets going through the system this year and more in the works for 2016.

Administration officials said an improving budget picture is the main driver behind the expanded cadet classes, which they said will mostly fill positions left vacant during prior years. This year’s budget lists 281 unfilled police-officer positions and another 35 civilian slots as the department’s top unmet needs.

Though the department could afford only one cadet class last year, it has two in the works for 2015 and hopes to fund four classes in 2016 — a training schedule that would produce about 270 rookie officers for a department that has roughly 4,200 full- and part-time workers.

“We’re catching up,” said county budget chief Jennifer Moon.

The county’s 2014 financial report, filed with regulators last week, shows property-tax dollars up 6.8 percent in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, and overall revenues up 2.9 percent. In 2013, property taxes dropped 2.5 percent and overall revenues were flat. But budget pressures continue in 2015. This year’s police budget includes about $2.9 million in savings from eliminating 11 positions and delaying purchases of computers, Tasers, and tactical vests.

Adding to the hiring pressures are the required exit of 394 police employees by 2020 through a deferred-retirement program available to government workers across the state. Known as DROP, the program lets eligible workers accumulate pension payments for a maximum of five years in exchange for agreeing to a mandatory retirement within that time span.

At the moment, 7.5 percent of Miami-Dade’s 27,000 workers are in DROP (which stands for Deferred Retirement Option Program). At the police department, the share is 9.4 percent, according to data provided by the county’s personnel department.

Our Dade Data chart details all of the DROP percentages for each Miami-Dade department, which are listed in order of payroll size. (You can also sort our interactive chart alphabetically, or using the raw DROP numbers, by clicking on the columns. Don’t see a chart? Click here.)

Among Miami-Dade’s 10 largest departments, Police has the biggest share of DROP participants. Corrections is a close second at 8.8 percent. The smallest share belongs to Transit, at 4.9 percent. The police department’s 394 DROP participants include its director, J.D. Patterson, who is slated for retirement in January 2016.

At some of the smaller agencies, modest payrolls produce much larger DROP shares. The department with the largest DROP contingent: Miami-Dade’s humble law library, where a third of the workforce is in the program (that’s two of six employees).

The Office of the Mayor comes in second place, with a 13.5 percent share, thanks to five of 37 employees in the deferred-retirement pipeline. (The DROP participants are four administrative staffers and Deputy Mayor Alina Hudak, who is set to retire in July 2019.)

The DROP rules vary, but county employees generally can enter it once they’ve either worked about 30 years or reached the age of 62 (for police and rescue workers, the age is lower). For employees who joined the system after 2011, the threshold is 33 years of work or reaching the age of 65.

Countywide, the peak of scheduled DROP departures comes in 2016, with 27 percent of the 2,031 participants slated to leave. Participants can opt to retire sooner than five years, so the number is likely to change.

Joining DROP allows employees to accumulate up to five years worth of pension payments while still collecting their county paychecks. The catch is they stop earning compensation credit toward their retirement, and must leave the county payroll once five years are up.

At the end of the DROP period, an employee receives a lump payment of his or her accumulated pension payments, and then begins a standard retirement with pension benefits. The payouts can be substantial. Patterson, the county police director, is set to receive a payment of $856,735 if he retires as planned in January, and then monthly pension benefits of $13,101, according to the state agency that manages government retirement plans.

The money comes from a state retirement fund, which local governments pay into as part of an employee’s compensation. Florida sets the contribution rates. Miami-Dade employees contribute 3 percent of their compensation to the pension fund, and then receive an additional contribution from the county that ranges from 21 percent (for department heads and senior executives) to 7 percent (for front-line workers). Elected officials receive the most: contributions that equal 33 percent of their salaries.

Available statewide, DROP is designed to save money long-term by pushing out veteran employees, with presumably large salaries,) to make way for newer ones at more junior pay levels.

Administration officials hope the exit of senior police officials will free up future payroll dollars at Miami-Dade’s largest agency. The DROP departures are adding to staffing challenges brought on by vacancies, but department brass say they’re ready for the retirements.

“We have an aggressive hiring plan,” said Juan Perez, deputy director of the department, which currently employs 3,654 people full-time. “If we stay on course with the hiring plan and leverage technologies, we should be able to sustain the losses.”

Administration officials blamed a weak recovery and unexpected refunds in property-tax appeals for falling behind on cadet classes in recent years.

Police staffing is particularly sensitive, given the backlash against public-safety cuts. Last year, Mayor Carlos Gimenez initially proposed cutting hundreds of police positions to balance the budget, but then backed off that plan and presented a spending plan that ultimately laid off only a few employees in the department’s video-production unit.

The 2015 budget police does detail a string of position eliminations, with the staffer reassigned to vacancies elsewhere. Among the cuts outlined in the current budget: eliminating two vacant officer slots in the narcotics bureau, a captain position in the Homeland Security division and scratching two vacant crime-analysis jobs.

“We’re already short as hell” on officer positions, said John Rivera, head of the police union. “They need to get going on hiring.”