Closing A Pension Loophole

Posted: January 25, 2001

It makes no sense for a Philadelphia policeman to be able to retire on a hefty pension after barely a week in uniform, much less any crime fighting.

A loophole permits civilian city workers to join the police force after age 45, then retire immediately under the more generous police pension plan. The same holds for the Fire Department, although city officials don't believe anyone has taken advantage of it.

Not only is this pension provision absurd, it's an affront to the men and women who serve years-long careers in uniform performing difficult and dangerous jobs. It's legal, but it isn't right.

The good news is that City Council appears ready to close the loophole, acting with appropriate dispatch on legislation authored by Councilman James F. Kenney, the son of a retired firefighter.

The bill would require five years' service before a police officer or firefighter could retire after 45, the minimum retirement age. It would waive the pension-vesting period in the event someone in uniform was injured seriously in the line of duty.

From all accounts, the loophole arose innocently in 1993. But once civilian workers began taking advantage of the quirk, city officials appeared ready to stand by and let them exit under this outrageous pension gambit. As one pension official conceded, the matter "wasn't on somebody's plate."

Not until The Inquirer's Mark Fazlollah and Barbara Boyer detailed the scheme in October. Then reform efforts kicked into high gear, thanks to Mr. Kenney.

Pension and personnel experts in City Hall should remember: It's their duty to keep watch for costly and unfair loopholes in the city's pension rules.

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