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New Mexico considers retirement ‘double dipping’ for police

SANTA FE – Legislators are drafting a plan to ease restrictions against retired police officers coming back to work, in an effort to add law enforcement officers across New Mexico amid a labor shortage.

At a legislative committee hearing Tuesday, retired police officer and state Rep. Bill Rehm of Albuquerque outlined a proposal for changes to retirement provisions for police that would incentivize a return to work. He said officers might continue to draw pension benefits while working and contributing to the pension fund, or delay retirement benefits for a bigger payout later.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is calling for the deployment of 1,000 additional police officers across the state amid public frustration with crime. She says she will ask lawmakers for $100 million to underwrite the initiative.

Lujan Grisham spokeswoman Nora Meyers Sackett declined to say whether the governor supports return-to-work incentives for retired police.

New Mexico amended rules at the Public Employees Retirement Association in 2010 to halt so-called double-dipping in response to concerns about fairness and the long-term solvency of the public pension fund for state and local government employees.

Opponents of retired police rehiring plans say it can hurt morale by limiting career advancement opportunities for ambitious younger officers and threaten efforts to modernize law enforcement agencies.

Albuquerque’s police force is in the middle of sweeping reforms aimed at reining in police brutality with guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice and court oversight.

An actuary to the Public Employees Retirement Association said that return-to-work systems can undermine pension solvency if they provide an incentive for many or most employees to retire early and begin drawing on retirement benefits.

One compromise solution is a buffer period of six months or longer after retirement before an officer can return to the job.

In 2016, a bill to ease retirement restrictions for police won approval of the state House of Representatives. But it advanced no further.