Talk is cheap: Times are not always easy, but law enforcement keeps fighting

 NJSPBA President Pat Colligan, Vernon Township Local 285 State Delegate Keith Curry and I participated in a National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) conference in Florida recently. As many already know, NAPO is a coalition of police unions and associations from across the U.S. that advocates and advances the interests of law enforcement throughout our nation. The organization represents more than 1,000 police units and associations, and more than 241,000 sworn law enforcement officers.

Law enforcement is increasingly under attack, and it’s not just in New Jersey. The activity in Washington, DC continues to shine a spotlight on the rights and interests of law enforcement officers. NAPO stays abreast of these issues from federal funding of state law enforcement and anti-terrorism efforts to federal policy on employee health, pensions and other benefits and other issues that impact public safety. NAPO works to influence the issues important to all of us and our families.

As our profession comes under continual political attack, it is good to hear and see NAPO interact with important elected and appointed officials, including representatives and senators from across the country. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, as one example, was a welcome attendee to the NAPO conference. It was refreshing to hear a key senator speak about his support and appreciation for law enforcement. Collectively, we continue to develop good relationships to protect our livelihoods through legislative engagement. While NAPO and law enforcement officers do not win every battle, persistence and consistent messaging when dealing with elected and appointed officials from all levels of government are important tools in the ongoing efforts.

When we look at our lobbying efforts in New Jersey, the NJSPBA doesn’t always win every battle at the outset. But we always continue the fight. We don’t have to think back far to recall our experience with former Governor Chris Christie. Christie proved time and again he would say and do whatever he felt necessary to claw his way to the next political position. In fact, and it probably doesn’t need reminding, in his first campaign for governor, he sent a letter to rank-and-file officers throughout New Jersey promising that he would never harm our pensions. Christie called pensions “a sacred trust,” further saying that “nothing will change for the pensions of current officers, future officers or retirees in a Christie administration.” That was a lie: Two years later Christie signed Chapter 78 into law. But we fought for every inch during his eight years in office, never giving ground.

The NJSPBA’s continuing fight has resulted in some life-changing wins even during these difficult times across the country. We recently succeeded in changing the law to allow for 20-year retirements with the passing of 20-and-out legislation. And I cannot overemphasize the importance of taking control of the Police & Fire Retirement System (PFRS). During the eight years between 2009-2017, the NJSPBA had support in the legislature but never could get Christie to support our efforts. In fact, it was legislation that Christie refused to approve multiple times.

Taking control of our pensions is a significant event in our union’s history. The creation of a board of trustees and controlling investment decisions in our pension system will go a long way to assuring that funds will be there for us when we retire. It also further solidifies the retirement promises made to us when we made the career choice to become law enforcement officers will be kept.

So, as we head into full-on election season, we need to learn from our experience and continue to move the NJSPBA forward. Political promises are just meaningless words if not backed up by action.  In other words, talk is cheap.

Enjoy the rest of summer. We have a lot of work ahead of us as we continue the fight to protect our profession and keep our membership safe. Always remember that the most important thing is to look out for each other and return home to our families after each shift.