I-Team: Why Lakeland scandal cops will keep pensions, vacation pay

Pension agreement and Florida law protect benefits

LAKELAND - The Lakeland Police Department has been rocked by scandal after scandal recently, leading to nine employees either resigning or being terminated. In the last five weeks, the department has faced questions about an officer's search of a female suspect, a sex scandal involving multiple officers, and DUI reports which included false information, which has led to 39 cases being dropped so far.

At a public hearing this week, resident Cassandra Dansby was concerned about whether the officers would still be receiving money from the taxpayers.

"Are these people, these officers, who are retiring versus being fired, receiving their pensions for the rest of their life?" she asked.

The City Attorney responded that they would. The city wouldn't have much choice. It's written into the pension plan agreement and Florida law. Officers would only lose their benefits if they were convicted of a felony or convicted of embezzling money from the department. So far, none of the officers involved has been charged with crime.

So the officers who resigned will likely get their pensions, and the ones who were fired will most likely receive retirement benefits. All of those employees will also get paid for their remaining vacation time.

We asked labor attorney Ignacio Garcia if the same thing would happen in the private sector. He says it varies from company to company, but many business wouldn't need a criminal conviction to revoke an employee's benefits.

"You could do a lot of things to put a company in a bad light that doesn't rise to the level of a conviction," Garcia said.

But he said it all comes down to what's written in the employee agreement. The City of Lakeland may have its hands tied.

"The devil's in the details for all those types of agreements," Garcia said.

The City of Lakeland is still calculating how much money the 9 employees who were fired or resigned will receive.

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