Source: National Institute on Retirement Security

As state and local governments across the nation continue to struggle filling public safety positions, this research explores how defined benefit pension plans are a critical workforce management tool for public safety employers.

The Role of Defined Benefit Pensions in Recruiting and Retaining Public Safety Professionals examines data from a nationally representative sample of 28 police and fire pension plans, as well as national datasets. The analysis finds that a majority of these pension plans expect 75 percent or more of current employees to retire from the plan, and more than half of new hires (52 percent) are projected to stay until retirement. The analysis also finds that police officers have an average tenure of 18 years, firefighters have an average of 20 years, and all public safety workers combined have an average of 17.6 years of service. This retention rate contrasts sharply with the private sector where the median tenure in 2022 was 4.1 years.

The research indicates that after the fifth year of service, public safety employee turnover flattens and is incredibly low until a public safety worker reaches retirement eligibility. This data indicates that pension plans are working as intended by retaining workers during their career and helping employees transition to retirement when appropriate.

The report is authored by Paul Baugher, Foster & Foster retirement consultant; Alisa Bennett, Cavanaugh Macdonald president and consulting actuary; Tyler Bond, NIRS research director; Dan Doonan, NIRS executive director; Larry Langer, Cavanaugh Macdonald principal and consulting actuary; Joe Newton, Gabriel, Roeder, Smith and Company pension market leader; Daniel Siblik, Segal vice president and actuary; and Matthew Strom, Segal senior vice president and actuary.

Download the report