CONTRIBUTORS

Legislature throws state troopers under the bus

Posted June 16, 2011, at 9:11 p.m.

Forty-three years ago, my class of future state troopers had the opportunity and the burning desire (as the colonel said) to join the Maine State Police. Most of us had some military experience, some college and some job experience. If we were successfully able to pass the written test, background investigation, oral board exam, lie detector test and colonels’ interview, we were hired and allowed to train to become state police officers.

If you successfully completed the Marine Corps-style training, you could be sure of moving away from your home area at your own expense to an assignment chosen by the state. You would be paid about $70 a week. You would be on call 2p4 hours a day, six days a week tied to either a car radio or a land-line telephone.

After six working days, you would have one day off and after six weeks you would have two days off in a row, excepting that the state could cancel days off at any time manpower was required and you would be given one day for each day off canceled. It was normal for scheduled holidays off to be canceled and replaced with a regular day off at the department’s convenience. It was normal to be called to duty at all hours of any day without any change in compensation.

Some of us, both before my generation and since, have accepted the above challenges based on the promised delayed compensation of a decent retirement based on 50 percent of the average final compensation and cost of living increases based on that compensation. Yes, over the years pay and benefits have improved and are probably not sustainable in the current retirement system, but that is not the troopers’ problem.

It should also be noted that the dangers inherent to police work have increased as has the private sectors’ wage and benefit scale. However, when the current state police contractual benefits were given, they were promised in exchange for forfeiting pay raises or benefit changes that the state said it could not afford. Historically it was not unusual for Maine state troopers to be the lowest paid, with the least benefits of any New England state.

Those who served and those who still serve provide the highest quality of service available to the people residing and visiting the state of Maine and in many locales are the only line of defense between good and evil. These men and women are the ones who now put on a bulletproof vest, a gun belt and a very identifiable uniform so that they can stand between you and the people who would commit crimes against you and your families.

These are the men and women who respond to the everyday tragedies that occur on our highways, that investigate and live with the horrors of child abuse, domestic abuse, sexual abuse, suicide, homicide and every other deviant behavior that exists in society. They run toward danger when others retreat — it’s normal for them, hence a young person’s job and an early retirement.

There is much undeserved jealousy over what state retirees get as compensation for their years of service, but I must point out that everyone makes choices. If you chose to work in the private sector, that is your choice. If you chose to do things making you unemployable by an entity, again, your choice. All state retirees chose to serve in their respective areas and should be compensated accordingly.

State troopers who served honorably for the designated period of time, which was contractually spelled out at the time of their hiring and reaffirmed at their retirement, having faithfully fulfilled all the obligations required of them and having provided the dedicated, loyal, sometimes dangerous and always stressful service to the people of Maine should be provided the retirement that they were promised. The budget now being considered by the Legislature undoes those promises, taking away benefits from troopers and other state employees.

There is no excuse for throwing these people under the bus. Loyalty and dedication work both ways.

Bradford S. Smith of Sangerville is a retired Maine State Police lieutenant.

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