In recognition of the intensity of their work, and of the sacrifices they make in their service, public safety officers are eligible for an earlier pension plan than other state workers. The superior retirement not only rewards them for their role in keeping Mainers safe, but also serves to attract and retain candidates who could find less extreme, and perhaps more lucrative, work elsewhere.

We argued last year that civilian employees in the Maine State Police crime lab and Computer Crimes Unit deserve the same status.

A bill before the Legislature would do just that – it passed last year but was held over for funding. It has not been included in Gov. Mills’ supplemental budget, which is under review now. As legislators decide how to spend $127 million, these workers should get their consideration.

They’ve earned it. These civilian employees are integral to the investigative process, and they deal with some of the ugliest facets of the worst crimes our state sees.

In doing so, they take on a significant burden. They process crime scenes or review endless photographic and video evidence of child sexual assault. It is essential to finding justice for victims and perhaps stopping the suffering of others – but it leaves a lasting scar.

It is work that even an experienced and hardened state trooper would have trouble with. David Armstrong, who spent 27 years as a trooper before moving to the Computer Crimes Unit, told lawmakers the cases he handles now “are the most horrific cases of my entire career.”

Police, he said, only have to witness enough to know that a crime has occurred. Analysts have to go through footage of child pornography frame by frame. “I cannot help but feel some level of guilt that I am secretly grateful that I am not doing that part of the investigation,” he testified.

The experience is not something they can leave at work, either.

“I recall time after time that I have come home from work in an angry mood and have such a short fuse for my husband and children because of the burnout I feel from work and the anger I am filled with after seeing adults abuse these children,” Jill Armstrong, a forensic analyst at the computer unit, told legislators.

After a while, Armstrong says, it can be a struggle to give her child a bath or to be intimate with her husband.

Brandi Caron, a DNA analyst at the crime lab, said the same. “Moments of motherhood that should be precious memories like my son’s first bath was instead contaminated by the memory of a case involving an infant whose mother drugged and drowned him in a tub,” she testified.

“The images and smells never leave you,” a forensic chemist told lawmakers. “I will never trust a man other than her father with my precious girl,” a 13-year veteran of the Computer Crimes Unit testified.

These jobs are difficult but necessary. They are not for everyone, and they are not for the long haul. The benefits they offer should reflect that.

There are a lot of worthy items competing for a place in the supplemental budget. At around $45,000 a year, the cost of moving these few civilian employees to a better retirement plan is one of the least expensive. It deserves lawmakers’ consideration.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.