After 30 years on the job with the Cape Elizabeth Police Department, Officer Vaughn Dyer needs a new knee. He’s working as much as he can, picking up extra shifts to boost his retirement income, and plans to get his knee replaced before he retires so his health insurance will cover the cost.

Officer Allen Westberry, at 64 the oldest officer in the department, had a triple bypass heart operation last year, and is waiting to retire until he turns 65 and is eligible for Medicare.

They and their fellow officers in the Cape Elizabeth Police Benevolent Association are in stalled negotiations with the town over a new police contract. The police now have a private retirement plan to which the town contributes 7 percent of an employee’s pay, and has offered to up that to 10 percent.

But the union wants the town to buy back into a special Maine State Retirement System plan that would allow an officer to retire with two-thirds pay after 25 years of service, regardless of age.

The town has refused. As of Thursday the union has been without a contract for 72 days.

“You get nothing for loyal service here,” Westberry said. “Nothing.”

For their 25-year anniversary the town gave each man a beautiful, expensive wooden chair with the town’s logo emblazoned on the back. Earlier this summer, in honor of each man’s 30 years of service to the department, they got certificates – which Dyer dismissed as pieces of paper bought by the ream.

“It used to be a department we were very proud of,” Dyer said. During the past 30 years an unwritten objective always existed for the officers within the department: “Don’t embarrass the town.” They always succeeded at that, he said. “And now they’re embarrassing us.”

Westberry and Dyer, 58, the two oldest officers in the department, are indicative of an aging police department at a time when recruiting officers is becoming increasingly difficult.

Police Chief Neil Williams said the department has been having problems recruiting officers, but he attributed that fact to a larger trend: less interest in the profession. He said it’s tough finding people who are committed to police work. “To be a police officer is a strenuous and strict process,” Williams said. “It’s not easy to be a police officer these days.”

It is especially so for the older officers, he said, who have to adjust to rotating shifts that force them to work nights and double shifts – 16 hours at a stretch.

Dyer agrees. He said the job of a police officer is taxing and most officers burn out after 20 years on the job. “After the first few decades you really have to force yourself to get to work,” he said.

But union president Officer Mark Dorval said recruitment in Cape is a problem because candidates for the job can shop around between different departments and choose the best compensation package, including retirement benefits.

Union members – the sergeants, officers and dispatchers in the department – are protesting the impasse in negotiations by breaking the dress code and refusing to shave.

“If we give up Maine State Retirement we’ll never be able to bring it up in future negotiations,” Dorval said. “It’s all or nothing.”

Dyer is an exception within the department because he has a retirement plan with the Maine State Retirement System, though not the special plan designed for law enforcement professionals. He is one of two members of the police department who is in the Maine State Retirement System; the other is Chief Williams.

The town was in the MSRS prior to 1994, but left and gave employees a choice: stay in the state’s retirement program or have a private plan. Most chose to leave, while Dyer chose to stay.

Dyer’s retirement plan allows him to retire after 25 years on the job with 50 percent of his salary. That is unless, he retires before the age of 60, in which case he suffers a penalty of 2.25 percent for every year under 60. Dyer was 53 when he reached his 25th year. If he had retired then his retirement package would have been reduced by more than 15 percent.

And for those last two years Dyer is going to work as hard as possible. His pension amount will be calculated by taking half of the average of his three highest-earning years, so he’s taking every overtime shift he can to boost his yearly salary to help his pension. Dyer averages 20 hours of overtime every week. “Someone my age can’t take that,” he said. “It’s a young man’s game, no doubt about it.”

Dyer pointed to the sign at the entrance to his office: “That sign should say ‘geriatric center.’ … We’re dinosaurs here, we admit it.”

Westberry said he has stayed as long as he has “simply because I love the job,” but plans to retire next June, when he is 65 and becomes eligible for Medicare.

Westberry also said the job gets tougher as you get older. “You shouldn’t be a policeman over 50,” he said.

According to Alan Hammond, assistant director of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, there are currently 90 law enforcement employees in the state who are older than Westberry, including full- and part-time employees and those with administrative jobs. Hammond said there are still two full-time police officers working on regular patrol shifts in the state who were born in 1929, making them at least 75 years old.

Dyer and Westberry say they will not be working at that age. “I will not die in this chair,” Dyer said.

The two oldest Cape Elizabeth Police Officers think the town could be treatiung their police officers better. Allen Westberry on the left, 64, and Vaugh Dyer, 58, have both been officers in Cape Elizabeth for 30 years.

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