San Jose, the self-proclaimed safest big city in the U..S., also boasts by far the highest percentage of police officers and firefighters retired on disability among California’s 10 biggest cities, says the San Jose Mercury News. Of the 1,200 retired public safety officers, 52 percent of police and 77 percent of firefighters are receiving disability pensions, rates that dwarf those in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Sacramento. The newspaper said that very few of the disabled retirees are young officers or firefighters whose careers were cut short by an on-the-job injury. Instead, almost four out of five are veterans in their 50s and 60s who were eligible to retire when they obtained their disability pensions from a city board. Often, they cited accumulated stress from decades of chasing criminals and fighting fires as the cause of their disabilities.
The officers had a powerful incentive to seek disability status: If they succeed, more than half their pension becomes tax-free — for life. For veteran officers, those taxpayer-funded pensions can amount to as much 90 percent of their former salaries. That tax break can be worth $10,000 or more a year. That raises questions about whether the retirement board brings enough of a critical eye to its job, or whether the city does enough to reduce injuries among police and firefighters and provide desk jobs for those who can’t do strenuous work. In San Diego, 39 percent of retired police officers and firefighters collect disability, compared with San Jose’s 63 percent.