The Potluck

The surge in police officers retiring due to disabilities has continued this year

By: - June 20, 2022 1:00 pm

Peaceful demonstrations against the police for the killing of George Floyd turned to looting and fires across Minneapolis on the night of May 27, 2020. Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer

The surge in Minnesota police officers retiring due to disabilities since George Floyd’s police murder has continued into 2022.

So far this year, 118 disability retirement claims have been filed with the state police and fire retirement fund, which is equal to the total number of applications in 2019. In 2020, the state received 241 applications, and last year 307 applications. 

A surge in duty disability retirements after George Floyd’s police murder increased the fund’s liability by nearly $70 million last year.

Since August 2020, 80% of the disability claims have been made by police officers, and 80% said they have post-traumatic stress syndrome. Of the workers applying in that time, 38% were from Minneapolis, 44% from outside the Twin Cities and 11% from St. Paul.

The Public Employees Retirement Association police and fire retirement plan allows workers to retire early due to disabilities and get at least 60% of their salary — tax-free — for five years or until they turn 55, when it converts to a regular retirement.

The PERA board of trustees recently discussed the continuing surge in duty disability claims.

Police and firefighter disability applications spiked in the months following the murder of George Floyd and ensuing protests and riots. Graph via PERA.

Bonnie Wurst, senior consultant for GRS, a national actuarial and benefits consulting company, said 62 disability retirements were expected from July 2020 to June 2021, but there were 229. That trend continued from July 2021 to January 2022, with 142 disability retirements, compared to 37 expected.

Trustee Kathryn Green said that if retiring employees can’t be replaced, the burden is greater on remaining employees to fill the fund.

“This is a big issue,” she said.

PERA Executive Director Doug Anderson said current police and firefighter contribution rates are already relatively high due to a past drive to shore up the pension fund: Employees contribute 11.8% of their pay into the pension plan, and employers contribute 17.7%. 

Anderson said due to those high rates, the fund has a cushion. That could be erased, however, if poor investment returns combine with the surge in disability pensions — which could mean future funding increases may need to be considered.

When a worker gets a disability pension, Minnesota law requires cities continue paying for their health insurance until age 65, with the state reimbursing a fraction of the cost.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.