Police Union Sends SOS To Town

The Westport Police are always there for us.

But now, many officers fear, the town may not be there for them.

A member of the police union board tells “06880” that the department is in the midst of pension negotiations. He says they’re not going well.

The union member explains that when current officers joined the force, their contract called for them to pay 10% of their base salary into a pension fund. That’s among the highest in Connecticut.

In return, they were guaranteed retirement at half of their final salary with 20 years’ service — while being responsible for their own medical costs.

Pension benefits are calculated using only base salaries — no overtime.

A patrolman’s maximum salary is about $84,900. Police officers don’t receive Social Security; they stopped paying into it after a contract change many years ago.

Half of the base salary works out to roughly $42,000. But after paying 40% of medical benefits and taxes, he says, that’s hardly enough to live on here.

The current pension contract expired July 1, 2016. (A separate work contract has already been ratified.)

A number of the 64 officers on the force chafe at the town’s offer. “We work midnight shifts, weekends and holidays,” the officer says.

“We give up a lot of family time. Any traffic stop or emergency call could be our last. We can be sued civilly. Our life expectancy is less than people who are not police officers.”

Police officers never know what they’ll encounter during a traffic stop.

They’ve made some concessions in negotiations — including raising the retirement age from 49 to 52.

But talks stalled. The union’s final offer was rejected by the town.

Now they’re in arbitration. Three people — one selected by the town, one by the police union, the third neutral — will rule on one offer or the other.

The union board member says that if citizens contact their RTM members and first selectman, the town has the option to pull out of arbitration.

He notes that Westport is in “great shape” financially. The grand list has increased 15.4% since 2010.

“The great school system, parks, beaches and attractions make Westport a desirable place to live,” he says. “But they come at a price. That price is your employees. Without dedicated and hard-working employees, none of the things that make Westport unique would hold true.

“People think there’s a golden parachute. The reality is very different. We just want what we were promised.”

The union board member believes that “the fair and most logical thing the town should do is leave the current employees’ benefit alone.”

The town will change new hires’ pensions. The half-pension, half-401k hybrid “will be in Westport’s pocket going forward,” he notes.

“We took this job with the expectation we’d have certain pension benefits at retirement,” he adds. “We see this as a slap in the face to people who provide tremendous service to the town.”

He concludes, “Whenever someone in Westport needs help, they call the police. Now the Westport police need your help. Contact your RTM member, or speak directly to the first selectmen. Let them know you care.”

39 responses to “Police Union Sends SOS To Town

  1. John Patterson

    Great article and I support the Police – but costs in this town must be managed. There are a few things to state and possibly clarify:

    1). Private sector pension benefits were all but eliminated in the early 2000’s. To have a pension in today’s employment market is extremely rare.

    2). Many public employees and non-profit organizations offer individual retirement plans a (similar to 401k). Perhaps this is a better program to offer portability and investment choices. Gone are the days paternalistic pension programs that are expensive to manage and fund.

    3). Police officers are vital to first response and I am grateful for their service. I believe Westport has the best fire and police protection in the State. They deserve to earn upwards of $85,000. But to be clear, Westport is a town that would be difficult to live in for less that $120,000 (the median income is $150,000+). I doubt many – if any officers – actually live in a Westport. I didn’t have children in the schools, there are much better places to live that surround this charming but very expensive community.

    Let’s strike a balance – not invite a strike or work stoppage – and find a more cost effective way to provide for the needs of our great officers.

  2. SOS for the brave Selectman and RTM members willing to take a stand and not kick the can down the road by conceding to a non market pension plan that transfers the economic burden to the hard working tax payers. There are many reasons why the SOS should go out to these brave individuals but just one is the description of retirement in Dan Woog’s article stating these police officers can retire with 50 percent salary at age 49 that may go to 52. Think about this deal….retire at 49 or 52 with 50% compensation. Where else but in the bloated public sector does this golden opportunity to retire at such a young age exist? The answer is no where. Public pension plans designed like this are so beyond market and they are almost always funded by the tax payer who works to 65 before retiring. I am pleased to see our town is willing to confront these massive inequities between the public and private sector. Of course my comments do not diminish in any way the wonderful work our officers do in Westport everyday.

  3. Well said. Our Police in Westport is some of the best in the state. Out town sandwiched between Norwalk and Bridgeport does have plenty to deal with that we dont see because our Police do a great job. We cannot compromise the safety of our community for anything. You get what you pay for in life. If we want to revise a plan for new officers to make a decision to come to Westport on a 401k then we can decide on that. It would be terrible form to take away something that was part of the program for the many great officers that have bettered our community for years here. Plans are always grandfathered in the corporate world. It stinks many of our officers cant afford to live here and enjoy what they have helped to create. The world is far more dangerous than ever. There is too much disharmony between cops and citizens in ither parts of the country. We are a role model and an awesome place to live and our police are a bug reason for that. This is not an expendable cost because the repercussions affect the safety of our children and the harmony of our community. I would love to speak to anyone on this crucially important topic.

    • I couldn’t agree more, Adam. Our police department is comprised of some of the best officers around and they deserve what they were promised when they first took the job. I could understand new officers being on a 401K plan but to take the pension away from veteran officers is simply wrong. These officers are faced with far more dangerous situations on a daily basis than many Westporters realize and they deserve the town’s support in return.

  4. I agree with Adam Vengrow on this important issue.

  5. Dave Feliciano

    Interesting how when folks in the private sector shipped the jobs to China found out that their job could also be outsourced, they want to attack the folks who work for much less. Petty, and not very becoming or virtuous. That they don’t have social security contributions to make with matching town contributions is suicidal. If an officer is killed on the job or dies early their family is adrift.

    One thing we discovered in police salary negotiations is that if “you as the town win too much” in the way of concessions. The better officers leave for state, federal, and other municipalities nationwide. Your better qualified officers vote with their feet. Westport Officers are highly trained motivated individuals and will soon be recruited by better salaried and compensated Law Enforcement agencies. You get what you pay for.

  6. Does the guarantee include 1/2 the final salary without including overtime? If so, it seems more than fair

  7. Article is well written. We need to stand up for our Police Department they do a great job they asked for nothing in return they have helped me in every crisis situation I’ve had and they deserve respect and kindness. Take a stand and stand up for our Police Department

    Lisa Girden

  8. As a community, we need to support the people who matter the most. This includes the Westport Police Department. They dillegently protect and serve our residents, making this town among the safest in the nation. They deserve our support and I sincerely hope that the right actions are taken to support them in their negotiations.

  9. Spot on Mr. Vengrow! Our police and first responders deserve the best. We need to find a solution to take care of the fine men & woman who take care of us and make Westport an amazing place to live. We have enough resources in this town to find a solution. The real hero’s in this town deserve better. Give them what they were promised.

  10. Joseph Lafrieda

    Take care of the current members of the WESTPORT Police Department. Especially if new hirees are going to get a hybrid plan. Remember retirement benefits do not include overtime just a base pay. And they do not collect Social Security.

  11. Cathryn Morrison (Lebish)

    I totally agree with Mr. Vengrow; indeed “spot on”. Seeing first hand the sacrifices our Police officers make to keep our affluent community safe, it confounds me that anyone could begrudge the them the benefits which existed upon their hire.
    We, as a community, should support those who serve and protect. The new hires will accept these positions knowing what to expect from their retirement benefits (which will help with town budgets). However, those who were hired with expectations for certain benefits, did plan for such. The morale of our Police department is vital to all of us.

  12. Elizabeth Thibault

    Has anyone crunched the numbers to determine what it would look like financially if the force was returned back to the Social Security System instead of the pension system, with the 401(k) plan option and matching contributions complimenting it? It doesn’t seem like it, based on the details provided. There seems like there could still be room for offers and negotiations. We have to be responsible and fair to both the officers and the taxpayers.

    • John Patterson

      I agree! Let’s really consider moving from a defined benefit that offers 50% of salary to a more attractive 409a or IRA program.

      Freezing current benefits would
      Still protect the promises made to this point – and replacing with a defined contribution model and social security may be the best option.

      Look, we all wish we could afford pension plans. It just isn’t a reality anymore.

  13. Michelle Ludel

    Why is that police officers and also teachers do not pay into Social Security and only have a pension? I believe in NY State (at least for teachers) you can still collect social security and a pension, and you fund both out of your salary. And also the investment plans offered for public servants and non profit employees are 403 b’s I think instead of 401k’s that are associated with much higher fees and not well managed. Since public service jobs don’t have high salaries to begin with seems they should have more choices in terms of retirement options since pensions are pretty much phased out.

  14. You mention – “Half of the base salary works out to roughly $42,000. But after paying 40% of medical benefits and taxes, he says, that’s hardly enough to live on here”.- Do they desire to have enough of A payout to enable them to live in one of the wealthiest communities /counties in the country ???? Sorry but they just might have to go along with the rest of us working stiffs who move to points south where the money goes a bit further. Tell me where I can get a retirement deal like this in the private sector and I’m in.

  15. Well written article, thank you Dan. Full disclosure, I served with the WPD for nearly 30 years. When I joined, the job posting listed the salaries, the benefits and the pension agreement. I paid in 9 percent annually..Over the years the labor contracts would run their course and a new one would be negotiated. If I recall correctly a new pension agreement was negotiated after ten years and that would cover the new hires. At retirement time I was granted my pension and that was that. I guess my point is that the Town has to do the right thing here and take care of the guys that came in under the current pension contract. Believe me, this is a job that’s not for everybody. Please support these folks…

    • Michael Calise

      Good Points Dave, New contracts for new hires is pretty straight forward and fair. In time each side of the table can achieve their goals.

  16. Time to re-structure into 401k. I disagree on a couple points in the article. First, everyone needs to be responsible for their own retirement savings. 401k matches and pensions are icing on the cake these days. To think a pension should pay ones retirement fully is absurd. Again, one needs to save and invest properly throughout their career. Also, I would like to see facts that actually support the statement on life expectancy… I think a win-win would be a strong 401k offering that has very good matching dollars in place of a pension. The private sector did it 15 years ago.

  17. The Westport Police force does an outstanding job in the Town and on
    the Sound as well. The creation of a
    401k plan for new hires may make
    sense in relation to CT’s current
    financial state however the change
    and / or the reduction of existing
    Officers’ pension plans is unheard of.
    This should not happen.

  18. George Venizelos

    I would like to take a moment to comment in favor of keeping the existing pension as had been promised to the men and women of the Westport Police Department . They as you may not realize one the most well educated, intelligent and accomplished individuals I have ever encountered in law enforcement . Why is this important – because a police these days has to deal with not only common crime but drug trafficking – terrorism – internet risks – protecting our children in schools -helping first responders -assisting other municipalities in cross boarder issues as well as having a marine unit for boaters and swimmers . If you as one of our officers other careers or degrees or expertise they have as well you will be shocked at their depth and what they bring to their profession . The paradigm that Chief Foti has created is the use of intelligence first before force – they represent this far better way to handle those risks . The personal risk to them everyday is without dispute. I want them to focus on the job at hand and not worry at the same time about their families and children’s future. The money is well spent and shouldn’t even be a consideration . On a personal note when my wife was going through cancer treatments some years ago – she was rear ended in a Westport Road – the police officer who came to her aid had no idea but she said he was the most kind she had ever experienced -how do you value that ? Please keep our promise to them – they deserve no less.

  19. Dave Feliciano

    Policemen generally live 10 years after retirement. One out of 100 live past 65 YOA in New York. National averages is similar.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4734369/#!po=5.35714

  20. I support higher compensation and benefits for Westport police.

  21. As a community, Westport expects the best, as is stated in the article. Any encounter I’ve had with a Westport police officer has been a positive one, making me feel safe in the town. I know how hard these men and women train to be prepared for emergency situations, and the risk involved in doing the great job they do. It’s only fair that these men and women be compensated as they were promised in the agreement if we want to expect that continued security.

  22. Thank you Dan for this well written article.
    I know first hand how important the Westport Police Department is to the town of Westport. My dad spent has career as a Westport police officer and eventually became Chief in 1974. I know the importance of the term “to serve and protect” and how it has made Westport one of the more desirable towns to live in in the state. It is a huge reason why many people decide to move to this town, and why many wealthy people decide to reside here. It has also translated into huge tax revenue with the new construction, and valuable property that has accumulated everywhere in this town. This would not be the case without the strong, intelligent and professional men and women on our police force.
    Additionally, these are the men and women that put their lives on the line every day. Westport is a safe town primarily because of the great work they do, however, when you are a first responder, you never know the situation you are about to encounter. Whether it is a heart attack, domestic dispute or serious criminal act, these men and women are dealing with potentially life or death situations every time they go to work. This should never be over looked. They are the unsung heroes of our town and this is true for all first responders across our country. I feel this is taken for granted, especially by many Westport citizens.
    I know the state of CT is in financial distress, and the towns are now feeling that stress. However, I do know that Westport is in pretty good financial condition. With that said, the town of Westport should not even be entertaining cuts to their pensions, they should be getting what is on their contract. Additionally, they are not eligible for social security and we should not be impairing their financial futures.
    The Westport Police force has my full support and I hope the citizens of this town get behind them so their pension requirements can be fulfilled. Let’s cut the fat somewhere else on the budget. Helping our PD will be beneficial for the town of Westport in the long run and will help retain quality men and women to serve and protect its citizens.

  23. Westport police officers protect and serve the community of WESTPORT on a daily basis. Now it is time to protect and serve them. Their pension negotiations need to reflect this so their future wellbeing is not compromised.

  24. Louis Zuckerman

    The Westport Police force is full of dedicated professionals, and truly first rate. They absolutely deserve to be treated with the utmost respect by the Town in negotiations.

  25. Michael Grapski

    To whom it may concern,

    I would like to voice my concern on this issue for Westports finest. Having benefits such as pensions and 401k’s is essential to keeping the quality of our public servents at its highest. Many of these officers consider this to be of paramount importance while they carry out the incredible and increasingly difficult task of protecting and serving our communities. I believe it would be a tragic mistake to treat this sensitive issue as just regular old budget quandary. When it comes down to it Protecting the future for the officers who protect our future really makes a lot of sense for everybody.

    Thanks for your time.

    Sincerely Michael Grapski

  26. There is a thin blue line between civilization and anarchy. It makes me sad when people do not appreciate the people that provide a safe living environment in their town. imagine if the police were not able to respond in a timely manner to an emergency. Things could really spiral out of control. We need to support those that support us and keep us safe. Without quality police officers bad people start to do bad things. If you get pulled over for speeding or rolling through a stop sign instead of complaining and saying “My taxes pay your salary” how about “I’m sorry officer what did I do wrong?” Police officers must feel anxiety every time they approach a car. Not knowing if a gun is going to be fired at them. Please respect the job they do and respect their right to make a couple off dollars in retirement. They are always there for you. Time to be there for them…..

  27. Take care of those who take care of you. Being a police officer has got to be one of the most demanding jobs in the world. It requires that you be equal parts protector, therapist, role model, soldier, friend, and all around care giver, And for some reason, it’s expected that they play each role with 100% perfection at all times. Try doing that. It’s strange to me that a progressive town such as Westport would choose to neglect its responsibility and cut pension benefits for its police officers. Take care of those who take care of you.

  28. We as a community need to rally around our police department and offer them a fair deal that will keep these highly trained employees in place. If promises were made they need to be honored. Moving forward, strategies for new hires and retirement planning need to be fair and acceptable for the town and the police department. This should not be a take it or leave it negotiating process for either side.
    All our lives benefit from the bravery these men and women bring, to protect us, every time they go to work. A typical day is much more dangerous than ticketing people driving and talking on their phone. There are many less than desirable people and situations that our police department deal with daily. We all need to take a moment and thank a police officer for providing us a safe community for all our families.

  29. Dan. This is a situation where 06880 should not get involved because all you did was show one side’s opinion of what is going on in the courts. It appears the other side has taken the right action with your post, and not say a thing.

    Not too long ago we read a story about the Pro at Longshore. Only one side of the story was told and many responded to it. But there was another side of the story that justified what actions were taken. But that side was never posted as they decided not to negotiate on 06880.

    In this case we have one side using social media to gain support without everyone knowing the FULL story-without knowing all the FACTS. Policeman should know better-never just use one side of a story-always expose all the facts.

    This is one post I would hope in the future you would avoid. Allowing a party involved in a serious action with the Town to give their opinion does nothing to resolve what is actually going on. It will never be resolved in 06880. Courts and mediates will when all sides present their facts.

    Your post also puts the other party in a tough situation as they are taking the right action and not posting or reacting. But they know one side was able to give their ‘opinion’.

    I find this very unethical by the person who decided to try and mediate the case on 06880. This one sided opinion by a party involved in a legal matter does no good for Westport.

    Just my opinion Dan but I would hope you would rethink this type of post.

    Your friend-Bart

  30. Patrick J.Kennedy

    I’ve been a resident of Westport for forty one years. We’ve all observed, the proud men and women in uniform,of the Westport Police Department. They put their lives on the line everyday, to protect us and our beautiful town. Messing with their compensation,only changes their attitude. The longer I live the more I realize the impact of attitude on life,at home,at work and on the street. So let’s continue to observe, our fine team of officer’s,coming to work everyday with a great attitude, proud to be serving our town and residents, knowing we all care about them. Westport, please don’t mess with their benefits!

  31. I would recommend that the town negotiate with new hires on contracts and pension arrangements but that existing contracts for those already on the force should not be discarded or modified. The good people we have on our police force joined the force with the expectation that their pension funds would be a part of their working arrangement. It would be very demoralizing to current officers if that arrangement was discarded.