More than 1,000 Minnesota police officers could retire in the next 8 months, and that could leave departments across the state struggling with a shortage of manpower and experience on the force.
A change in the pension system, known as PERA, could be the catalyst for the mass movement. Currently, only 77 percent of the plan is funded, and with the trend line going into the red, a change needed to be made in terms of contributions and penalties for early retirement.
The good news is that the plan will eventually be fully funded, but the bad news is in the short term, there may be far fewer cops on the beat.
Some are calling it the Great Cop Exodus. Of the 10,000 police officers across the state, as many as 1,706 are eligible for early retirement next year -- and there's a financial incentive to take the leap.
The pension penalty for early retirement between 50 and 55 is currently just 1.2 percent a year; however, the Legislature, with the backing of the unions, changed that to put the pension fund on solid footing. Effective July 1, the reduction increases and may be increased to a 5 percent penalty annually by 2019.
That could put a generation of law enforcement experience on its way out, but Minneapolis Police Union President John Delmonico told Fox 9 News he isn't worried. In fact, he doesn't believe the exodus will come to pass.
"The economy, the cost of health care -- people realize pay cuts, and they're sticking around," he said.
In Minneapolis, 24 officers have retired so far this year, which is about average. Another 39 officers are eligible, totaling 7.5 percent of the overall force.
St. Paul police are expecting at least 30 officers to retire, accounting for about 5 percent of their personnel.
Hennepin County is looking at 37 eligible retirees, or about 11 percent of their officers. Anoka County may take an even bigger hit because 23 deputies are eligible, and that's could be an 18 percent reduction if all retire.
Almost every police and sheriff's department in the state is looking at recruiting and are planning cadet classes. In fact, St. Paul police recently hosted a job fair.
At 56 himself, Delmonico says he's believes retirement is overrated. Police chiefs and sheriffs across the state hope he's not the only one.
About 16 percent of the sworn police officers in the state will be eligible for retirement by July 1, but it's a bit of a demographic bubble. The problem with anticipating the numbers is that until those officers file their retirement papers, leaving estimates are a moving target. As for the exodus, it's likely a much clearer picture will develop by late spring.