New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has signed (Senate bill S1017) a new early retirement bill for police and firefighters.

It is also known as the “Burnout Bill” because public safety officers have been placed under significant duress over the past several years.

This should not discount the fact that their job has always been difficult. Now, it’s becoming nearly impossible.

Here’s how the new law will work.

Any public safety worker who has been on the job for 20 years can retire with a pension. This also includes any police or fire employee who reaches 20 years of service within the next two years.

They will qualify for a lifetime pension equal to approximately 1/2 of their salary, with no age requirement.

Previously, an officer can retire after 25 years and had to be at least 55 years old.

The current pension program also includes lifetime medical health benefits.

The new early retirement plan does not include lifetime medical health benefits.

Still, many of New Jersey’s approximately 8,000 police and firefighters may take this opportunity to retire because of the unique challenges of our present times.

Atlantic City Firefighters with Harry Hurley - Photo: Harry Hurley/Townsquare Media

John Varallo is the President of the Atlantic City Professional Firefighters Local 198. Varallo has been an effective and competent advocate for his membership.

Here’s how Varallo sees it.

“There is no doubt that a pandemic, coupled with social unrest has had a major impact on members of our police and fire departments. Individuals in these positions have been exposed to all time high stress levels. My hope is this bill helps those who are trying to find peace,” said Varallo.

Historically only a small percentage of officers take advantage of an early retirement program.

For reasons that we have outlined here, it could be a much different outcome this time.

Atlantic City PBA Local 24 President Jules Schwenger is the first female police union leader in Atlantic City history.

Schwenger said “that I am pleased the State PBA prioritized this bill, it’s extremely important for officers to have this option. Policing has never been harder and 20 years can feel like a lifetime,” said Schwenger.

I strongly believe that is how most union leaders will feel about the new early retirement laws.

However, there are those who strongly advocate that officers will be leaving a million or more dollars “on the table” by taking the early retirement.

It is a tragedy that the current overwhelming challenges of our present times will result in many talented and highly experienced officers retiring before their time.

However, having said that ... I fully understand why any officer would take this early out option.

Just remember that if 8,000 officers all left ... they don’t all leave ... but, if they did ... New Jersey would see a total of 40,000 years lost ... that these officers would have served.

In my final analysis, I conclude that this is a smart and compassionate decision by Governor Murphy. Public safety officers have been under unprecedented stress on the job. This affords the opportunity and give those with a minimum of two decades of experience the opportunity to retire with a full pension.

Also, from a purely dispassionate standpoint, it will allow municipalities to make decisions about how many new officers to hire and those who will be coming on board will be placed on the first step level of the salary guide, as compared to their predecessor who was at top pay.

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