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Reflection on Promises

By Sean M. Smoot, Director, Police Benevolent & Protective Association of Illinois

This week, perhaps unlike any other in recent history, has given us all cause to reflect on promises. We have seen a nation fulfill its promise to bring justice to a terrorist. For many days we will view images of the horrific attacks which occurred almost 10 years ago. And we will witness promises kept by the brave police officers and firemen who can be seen running toward the explosions, smoke, and destruction as others run away.

People who work in public safety take an oath – they make a promise – to serve and protect. This promise is universal. It is the same oath, the same promise, made and kept every day in New York, L.A., Chicago, Springfield, Cairo, and in your hometown. Whether it’s in response to a terrorist attack, a tornado, a felony, or a flood, police officers, firefighters, and other first responders run toward danger and often into disaster. Instead of running away from the promise they made, some of them are catastrophically injured. And, some of them die.

Promises made and promises kept - that’s what makes everything else in America possible. We are free because others took an oath, promising to be there when we need them – to pull us from a burning car or out of the rubble, to pursue those who would steal or damage our property, tour streets safe and criminals incarcerated, to save our lives.

This week in Springfield the Illinois Police Memorial will take place honoring police and correctional officers who paid the ultimate price in keeping the promises they made. Next week we will honor the fallen heroes of Illinois’ fire service. Promises made, promise kept.

In exchange for their devotion to all of us we have promised to provide public safety workers with fair pay and benefits. Benefits promised include security for those fortunate enough to retire and security for the survivors of those who don’t survive the perils of the job. The pension system that provides this security also prevents police officers and firefighters from getting social security benefits. Instead, they pay nearly 10% of their salary into their own pension systems.
Their employers – local governments and the state of Illinois – are supposed to pay their fair share too. Some have failed to keep that promise, causing a shortfall to many pension systems. Now, instead of paying their share they want to run away. They want to break the pension promise that they made with police officers and firefighters – along with teachers, nurses, and every other public employee in the state.

What makes our country work is the value we place on public service. After all, the core responsibility of government is to safeguard the lives and liberty of the people. The promises made and kept by cops and firemen are often venerated, especially in times of crisis or tragedy. But, our promise to public safety workers goes beyond memorial ceremonies.

Sadly, state and local elected officials need to be reminded that -not just during times of tragedy and disaster - but at all times - for America to work and for our communities to thrive - promises made must be kept. Don’t cut the modest pensions these quiet heroes earn, pay into, and depend on.
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