Philly considers rehiring retired cops to fill vacancies

The proposed legislation is being touted as one way to address hundreds of vacancies in the police department


By Anna Orso
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia City Council is considering a proposal that would allow the city to fill vacancies — including in the Police Department — with retired employees who could continue receiving pension payments while also earning a paycheck.

The legislation, introduced Thursday by Council Majority Leader Cherelle Parker, is being touted as one way to address hundreds of vacancies in the Police Department, which has struggled to recruit and retain officers amid a nationwide shortage and a spike in gun violence in the city.

The Philadelphia City Council is considering a proposal that would allow the city to fill vacancies in the police department by hiring retired officers.
The Philadelphia City Council is considering a proposal that would allow the city to fill vacancies in the police department by hiring retired officers. (Jessica Griffin)

But if adopted, the policy shift would apply to all city employees. Parker highlighted that the Department of Prisons is short hundreds of correctional officers, and the Department of Licenses and Inspections has seen a mass exodus of inspectors, prompting concerns about building safety.

Under the legislation, the mayor would have to declare that an extraordinary circumstance exists and threatens the “public health, safety and welfare of the city” in order to rehire retired employees without having their pension benefits suspended. The administration would also have to identify specific departments and the types of employees who would be rehired, and City Council could reject the declaration.

The rehired retirees could continue receiving a monthly pension payment for up to three years while also earning a full salary. During that time, they would not have to pay into the pension fund, but would not earn additional credit under their pension plan. They’d be required to pay union dues.

Parker, who is considered a likely 2023 mayoral candidate and is a close ally of Council President Darrell L. Clarke, said the proposal could serve as “a short-term solution” to bolster the ranks of the Police Department as the city grapples with historic levels of community gun violence.

“We do not have the luxury of time to recruit and train all new employees to fill vacancies,” she said during Council’s session Thursday. “We are facing a crisis now, and we must respond accordingly. This is just adding another tool in Philadelphia’s toolbox to ensure that we are making the public health and public safety of our city a No. 1 priority.”

Clarke referred the bill to committee.

A spokesperson for Mayor Jim Kenney said the administration hasn’t yet reviewed the legislation, saying: “We will continue to do everything we can to fill open, critical positions like those the Councilmember highlighted.”

The legislation comes just weeks after the city waived its residency requirement for police, which took effect in 2020 as part of legislation championed by Parker and Clarke that was aimed at diversifying the ranks.

The city police force is authorized to have 6,380 officers on its payroll, but it’s struggled to fill more than 500 vacancies, and hundreds more officers are off duty on injury claims.

The police union is reviewing the legislation and plans to meet with Parker, said John McNesby, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5. He called it an “interesting” proposal to address the shortage, saying: “We need help on the streets.”

Mike Bresnan, president of the union that represents the city’s firefighters and paramedics, said bringing back retirees could help fill a “dire” shortage of paramedics, who have more training than emergency medical technicians.

“If they could bring back some medics that are willing to come back,” he said, “that would help immensely.”

But passage is far from certain.

Opposing the legislation is District Council 33 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the union that represents thousands of blue-collar municipal workers, including correctional officers, sanitation workers, and some airport employees.

A spokesperson for the union didn’t elaborate on its objections, saying: “We are in constant communication with City Council.”

Parker’s office said she intends to meet with representatives from DC33 and other municipal unions in the coming weeks.

©2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Visit at inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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