Each of the roughly 1,700 state public safety employees is eligible for a pension plan superior to that of the remaining 11,000 or so state workers, an acknowledgment that their work is critical, demanding, and often dangerous.

Alongside them, however, are about 20 civilian employees whose jobs are no less critical or demanding – even more so in some cases – but who are not shown the same recognition.

Some of them work in the Maine State Police crime lab, where they conduct analysis of forensic evidence such as DNA, blood, fingerprints and gunshots – and a mistake can mean a violent person goes free. Like the troopers and detectives they work with, the analysts are an indispensable part of the investigative process.

Others work for the state police’s Computer Crimes Unit, where they mostly identify and process photographic and video evidence of children being sexually assaulted and otherwise victimized. It is a brutal, essential duty.

And it is not without its repercussions. Just like the police officer who can’t shake the image of a deadly car wreck even years later, analysts at the Computer Crimes Unit live with their work 24 hours a day, likely for the rest of their lives.

That came out clearly in testimony for L.D. 1355 – a bill that would give these civilian workers the pension plan now provided to forest rangers, corrections workers and other public safety personnel (though not state police and game wardens, who have a separate plan). At a hearing last week, analysts said their work affects their relationships with their spouses and children, as well as their larger quality of life.

Hours of sifting through images of the worst crimes imaginable leaves them angry, and that anger goes home with them, they said. Particular victims come back to them in their quieter moments and disrupt their sleep. Some said they are overcautious and suspect of all strangers, and that normal tasks such as changing diapers or dropping a kid off at the bus become infused with dread and fear.

Crime lab technicians, too, carry with them the weight of the countless tragedies that make up their daily work, and of the high stakes they constantly operate under, up to and including testifying in court.

The work done at the crime lab and computer unit are essential to keeping Maine safe, and  the people who are doing the work pay for price for it. Offering these employees the public safety pension plan acknowledges that toll, and provides and extra incentive for dedicated, trained workers to stay in important jobs.

Legislators should approve L.D. 1355. Give them the public safety pension. They earn it every day.

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