– Executive Summary –

Public safety, particularly law enforcement, is increasingly impacted by decreased personnel and qualified applicants. Law enforcement agencies from all sectors—federal, state, and local—are simultaneously experiencing dramatic decreases in staffing along with a significant decline in recruitment.[1] As law enforcement staffing decreases, agencies struggle to perform necessary functions. Reduced staffing affects law enforcement’s ability to conduct frontline and collaborative homeland security functions. To combat this decline, law enforcement agencies across the country employ various strategies to recruit and retain staff.[2] Some of these strategies include increasing salaries, establishing better working conditions, or appealing to the needs of a younger work force. The strategy this thesis focused on is the pension plans offered to current and prospective employees.

The traditional pension system for state and local government workers has been the defined benefit pension plan, in which participants contribute a portion of their salary to the state or local government pension plan and, in return, receive benefits, including a guaranteed annual payment for the rest of their lives post-retirement.[3][4] According to Katz and Fornia and Rhee, defined benefit plans provide the most financial security for employees for several reasons, including the employing body assuming the responsibility of providing pension benefits to retired employees.[5] Defined pension plans also provide the option for an annuity to be paid to the employee’s spouse or immediate family member upon the employee’s death. To cut costs, several agencies have attempted to transition from a defined benefit pan to a defined contribution plan, which consists of an employee contributing to their individual retirement account as opposed to the pooling of funds in a defined benefit plan. Often, employers match employee contributions up to a certain percentage. Employees then direct where the funds they contribute are invested from options contained within the defined contribution plan. A third option, the hybrid plan, combine components of both defined benefit and defined contribution plans and are structured to provide the employee with the security of a defined benefit plan and the self-direction and portability of a defined contribution plan.[6]

This thesis examines these economically and generationally innovative hiring and retention practices and evaluates their effectiveness in assisting law enforcement agencies combating their staffing shortages. To do so, this thesis uses Bardach and Patashnik’s eightfold path to examine six case studies as to the feasibility of altering long-established pension systems and career lengths in law enforcement. The cases studied represent agencies of various sizes and encompass the local, state, and federal levels of law enforcement. Additionally, the cases cited demonstrate various outcomes related to pension reforms by public safety agencies. From the evidence presented, effectiveness, cost, and implementation were the three criteria established to assist in comparing three policy options. The three policies analyzed include maintaining the status quo of the traditional defined benefit plan, offering a defined contribution plan, and offering a hybrid pension plan.

The criteria were weighed, reviewed, analyzed, and scored for each policy option. After assessing potential alternatives through the evaluative criteria, each policy option was ranked, revealing a defined benefit plan as the most promising policy to assist law enforcement. A defined benefit plan is proven to be an effective tool in recruiting and retaining officers. It also provides cost savings to the employers and is politically accepted by politicians and decision-makers.

Law enforcement agencies are need effective strategies to recruit and retain dedicated and high-quality staff. Adopting policies that enable law enforcement agencies to reduce staffing shortages and provide incentives for employees to devote their careers to public service not only saves agencies money but also creates stronger and safer communities. A defined benefit plan provides law enforcement agencies the best option to recruit and retain law enforcement officers, increasing their ability to better protect and serve their communities.


[1] Sarah Mostyn, The Workforce Crisis, and What Police Agencies Are Doing About It (Washington, DC: Police Executive Research Forum, 2019), https://www.policeforum.org/​assets/​WorkforceCrisis.pdf.

[2] Martin Kaste, “Shortage Of Officers Fuels Police Recruiting Crisis,” podcast, accessed October 13, 2019, https://www.npr.org/​2018/​12/​11/​675505052/​shortage-of-officers-fuels-police-recruiting-crisis.

[3] Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, A Predictable Secure Pension for Life: Defined Benefit Pensions (Washington, DC: Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, 2000), 3, https://www.pbgc.gov/​documents/​a_predictable_secure_pension_for_life.pdf.

[4] Monique Morrissey, “Will Switching Government Workers to Account-Type Plans Save Taxpayers Money?,” Economic Policy Institute (blog), March 2015, 3, https://www.epi.org/​publication/​will-switching-government-workers-to-account-type-plans-save-taxpayers-money/.

[5] Michael Katz, “Public Employees Overwhelmingly Choose Pensions Over 401(k)s,” Chief Investment Officer, August 25, 2017, https://www.ai-cio.com/​news/​public-employees-overwhelmingly-choose-pensions-401ks/; William B. Fornia and Naria Rhee, Still a Better Bang for the Buck: An Update on the Economic Efficiencies of Defined Benefit Pensions (Washington, DC: National Institute on Retirement Security, 2014), 2, https://www.nirsonline.org/​reports/​still-a-better-bang-for-the-buck-an-update-on-the-economic-efficiencies-of-defined-benefit-pensions/.

[6] “Hybrid Public Pension Plans,” Pew Charitable Trusts, April 2015, https://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/​assets/​2015/​04/​hybrid-public-pension-plans_brief.pdf.

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