Do Police Officers Earn a Fair Pension?
By Scott Castruita
I am writing this article because I recently had a Christmas party with some close friends who I care about very much and I know they feel the same about me. However, there is always one common theme that seems to come up in our conversations and that is my retirement from the San Jose Police Department. In August of 2011, I retired after a 28-year career as a police officer, ending the last 12 years as a patrol sergeant. I was very proud of my career choice and I could not imagine taking any other path.
This article is only to share my thoughts and is not in any way, shape or form a complaint or attempt to gain sympathy from the reader. The economy has made it tough on all of us. Police officers, firefighters and civilians alike are all feeling the effects of our current economic downturn. However, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed has managed to take this worldwide economic downturn to demonize his police officers and firefighters in an attempt to cover up his and other city representatives inability to properly manage the city or just plain do their job.
It is unfortunate that many of my friends and people that I consider family have been tainted by Mayor Reed’s lies and now have negative opinions that are based on ignorance of the facts. Many of the people that used to tell me “You don’t get paid enough for your job or I wouldn’t do your job for a million dollars, now accuse me of gorging myself at the public trough. I can’t blame them completely for their mistaken conclusion. Because everyone is busy in their day-to-day lives, just trying to keep their own boats afloat, they don’t have time to do a true examination of the facts so they rely on a media that loves controversy so they can sell newspapers. They also rely on an elected leader Mayor Reed who has an unscrupulous hidden agenda and flat out lies to his citizens.
For this reason, I ended my career quietly with no fan fare, no party, in fact I even skipped out on my last briefing because it was to difficult for me to say good bye to my friends and policefamily. I was heartsick feeling they were stuck on a sinking ship and it was our own Mayor that fired the torpedoes. His torpedoes have completely demoralized and are rapidly destroying the finest, most highly educated and dedicated police department in the nation.
I am proud to have worked with these officers and leaders. I am saddened because every officer I talk to now has lost their enthusiasm and feels stuck in their job and is unsure of their future. Thanks to Mayor Reed, there are no winners in his plan and the citizens of the city will suffer the most as the crime rate rises. When his term is over, Mayor Reed will move on and leave San Jose smoldering in ashes.
Now for the question: Did Scott Castruita, retired San Jose Police Sergeant earn a fair pension?
I would like to answer this question by giving a few examples of my personal experience as a police officer and I ask you to compare these experiences to your own career before you judge me.
• Giving CPR to a woman’s father that I knew was dead because his small grandchildren were begging me to help him and the crowd of onlookers surrounding us expecting me to help him.
• Being the first on the scene after a young mother had called 911. When I arrived, she handed me her obviously dead 9-month-old baby as if I was going to run for a touch down, crying please help me, please save my baby. I did CPR on this baby for what seemed like the longest 5 minutes of my life.
• I had to lead an investigation into the death of a 9-month-old baby. The horrible feelings I had because I had to interrogate a grieving mother as a possible suspect to be sure about how her baby had died. Collecting evidence at the scene and taking photos of the dead babyonly to be told later it was most likely a case of Sudden Infant Dead Syndrome.
• Never being able to erase that experience from my mind nor sleep through the night because I had a 9-month-old son of my own at home. I was always waking up to check and be sure he was breathing. Because of this experience, when my daughter was born, I moved her into my room at night for the same reason.
• Having to administer CPR two more times to dead victims because the victim’s family, friends and bystanders were expecting me to save their lives. I just couldn’t perform the miracle they wanted from me.
• Holding a 17-year-old boy’s hand and telling him “everything was going to be OK, we are going to get this car off of you”. Watching his life slip away, all the time knowing the truth, there was nothing I could do to save his life. When the family showed up, I lied to them. I told them, your son he didn’t suffer, it was over fast for him. The rest of the night on patrol was a long lonely night for me.
• All the terrible car accidents I was on where I saw badly hurt people, including dead children and the elderly. No matter the conditions, freezing, wet or hot weather, the conditionswere never right to deal with this type of experience.
• Responding to an emergency call for help from a brother officer, only to arrive and see him lifeless between two parked cars after he was shot by a crazed gunman. Watching as another brother officer, critically wounded in the same gunbattle, as he is loaded into an ambulance and then later hearing the news that he died from his gunshot wounds. That officer was one of my recruiters when I was hired as a police officer.
• On another day I again find out I was down the street when another brother officer was shot to death with his own gun while processing a drunk driver.
• Responding to the countless numbers of suicides and attempted suicides. Arriving on a scene to find a man that blew his own head off with a shotgun. The man that drank a gallon of pool acid. The 16-year-old boy that stole his dad’s gun and shot himself in the head after he texted his friend’s goodbye. The man that soaked his sleeping bag in gasoline then got in and set it on fire. The man who took a butcher knife and cut his stomach open and having to talk to him as his guts lay beside him. The person that rammed their car into a tree after leaving a very touching letter behind. There are so many more that still haunt me and make me wonder why?
• The many brother and sister officers, some who were close friends and took their own lives. The lingering thoughts and feelings, should I have seen that coming?
• The times I fought with a suspect who was trying to take my gun away and kill me with it. I live with lingering thoughts of what would he have done to me, if I lost the fight? Wanting to hear the sound of the sirens telling me my brother and sister officers were on the way to help me. I thank god for my brother and sister officers that showed up to help me. One of those times they even had to return my gun to me because it ended up in the middle of the street during the fight. That’s when I decided to buy a back up gun with my own money and I carried it hidden on me for the rest of my career.
• Winning fights with suspects did not always mean I walked away without injuries. I have had my kneecap knocked off, a disk in my back is compressed, all the bones in one hand broken, several eye injuries and two shoulder sugeries. The list goes on but so do I.
• Over the years I have had rocks, bottles, sticks, you name it and its been thrown at me and sometimes they hit me. I have been bitten, punched, kicked, hit with cars, spit at and called every name in the book. But I have also been thanked and had my hand shaken many times by grateful citizens.
• I have set up funeral home arraignments for grieving families. I have checked on mothers, fathers, and other family members because relatives had not heard from them, only to find them dead and have to tell the caller that their loved one is gone. I have had to deliver the worst news to families about their dead children or mom or dad. Don’t think that officers just go back into service and never shed a tear. There were times I could barely get around the corner without my tears making it too blurry for me to drive. That’s when you call your family just to say hi and they don’t have a clue what you are feeling. This is one of those jobs that won’t allow you to just go home at the end of the day and forget about it.
• All my kid’s events and all the holidays I missed while on patrol. Someone has to work those holidays. Not me anymore and I am thankful to be able to spend them now with my family and friends. I don’t have to get those calls at work from my family about how much they miss me because I am not there with them.
Ok I think you get the picture this is not just my story, this is almost every police officer’s story. Just change the names and the faces. Police officers have all the same day-to-day stresses everyone else has dealing with life. We are also part of that 99%. Yet because we drive those blue and white cars, we end up being the most visible symbol of government and the target of some people’s frustrations with government. We go to work and sometimes have to make split second decisions that will affect our lives as well as others, all at the same time we are thinking about our kids and other love ones.
I feel I earned my pension. I paid into my pension my whole career. I am not getting a free pension. In fact when I retired, the city was still taking almost 22% of my pay for my pension. During my career, we were asked many times by the city to sacrifice a pay raise because of city budget problems. The city told us if you agree not to take a pay raise, we will increase your pension. We made a good faith agreement with the city. Now the city wants to break their agreement. It would be no different then you making all your house payments and then the bank shows up and says it’s your fault we are having money issues we need to take your house. Really? I don’t think so. I will continue to produce fugitive.com and help the city catch bad guys because catching bad guys is what I do best. I refuse to waste the time and the money the citizens of San Jose invested in me.
Scott Castruita is a retired San Jose Police Sergeant and is President of Fugitive Watch Productions. This article was originally published on Fugative Watch and has been reposted on Protect San Jose with permission of the author.