Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff supports changes to California’s pension laws, but one approved last week, has him and other public safety officials concerned.

The state legislature raised the retirement age for public safety employees from 50 years to 57 years.

Sniff and the California Police Chiefs Association is concerned that deputies and detectives over 50-years-old will incur more injuries. Thus worker’s compensation claims will grow and disability pensions may become more frequent which would negate the savings, according to the Association’s letter to the governor.

“Here we have very pro-active patrol officers,” Sniff said. “Younger men and women are strong and sustain fewer injuries. Patrol officers and detectives are in the front line. They chase crooks and are in pursuit at any time.”

The higher retirement age means more officers will have difficulty physically doing the job, Sniff believes. Today, they have the ability to leave at 50 and healthy.

Moving the over-50 cadre to desk jobs has its own drawback, Sniff highlighted. “If we create make-work jobs, it would be a huge expense.”

Overall, Sniff believes the changes passed last week do not benefit public safety employees. The average age of a new Riverside deputy is 28, according to Sniff. They barely have 25 years employment before retiring now. Only a few are now 21 years old and just as many over 30 years when they begin.

Sniff argues that the large pensions are going to public safety employees, if they stayed in law enforcement of 20 to 25 years, they would only receive a pension equal to 60 to 75 of their final salary. The $100,000 pensioners are not street cops, according to Sniff.

While the new state bill raises public safety employee retirement to 57 statewide, Sniff is still concerned about the county’s competitiveness for attracting new employees. In the next few years, the Sheriff’s Department is planning a large expansion. Additional deputies are needed for the jail expansion caused by the state realignment of the number of inmates. In addition, the Board of Supervisors has approved adding additional deputies for the unincorporated areas.

The senior ranks of the department have recently felt significant retirement in advance of these changes, Sniff added. He’s replaced almost all the department captains in the past few years.