Cops vs Teachers: Who's Worth More in Tight Times?

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Should the fact that police and firemen risk death and injury be an important distinction at budget time? "Absolutely," thinks Canterbury. "The first responsibility of government is to protect its citizens. Politicians can't dodge that. Look at Camden New Jersey laying off 44 percent of its police department and then telling the public they're as safe as before. The audacity of that! No kindergarten kid believes that math."

Police and firemen's ace in the game of contract negotiations, he believes, is elected officials' justifiable fear that if they cut back too far on cops and firemen, the public will turn on them. "You're seeing that in Wisconsin already," he thinks.

It only makes sense, says Canterbury, that police and firemen should cooperate with one another and band together at the bargaining table. "We're in constant contact with the International Association of Fire Fighters," he says. "It's part of F.O.P. strategy. We're encouraging all our lodges to have open-ended discussions with the firefighters. Most have a very good working relationship."

Trying to cut costs by getting cops and firemen to postpone retirement he sees as a non-starter. The public, he says, understands that dangerous, physically demanding work can't be done by older workers. "People don't want to see a 65-year-old police officer dispatched to their home to handle a burglar. I'm 52. I don't want to have to go fight a 20-year old crack head."

As for government's cutting back on police and fire pensions: "Asking somebody to put his life on the line and then, after 40 years, telling him he has no pension? You can't do that. People won't risk their lives to do that." Recruiting efforts, he believes, would immediately suffer.

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