By Benjamin Y. Gonzales
Posted: 03/10/2011 06:24:06 PM PST

It has unfortunately become fashionable to berate public employees regarding their pension benefits. The Sun’s Feb. 28 editorial, “Blame belongs to officeholders,” did so once again, categorizing public employees and their unions as “villains.”

The Sun listed three specific groups of employees of particular interest to me: prosecutors, police officers and firefighters. I am well acquainted with these groups and am compelled to point out that there is another side to this story that The Sun continually fails to pursue or present.

Prosecutors within the District Attorney’s Office are entrusted with the handling of criminal prosecutions on behalf of the people. These attorneys spend many hours reviewing, preparing and handling cases involving murder, child molestation, drug trafficking, domestic violence and political corruption, to name a few. This is extremely difficult and time-consuming work. From personal experience and observation, I know it is common for prosecutors to work far more hours than they are paid for handling these cases. They work on their own time, after normal hours, on weekends, and over holidays out of dedication, professionalism and a commitment to public service and public safety. They are not paid for the many overtime hours they work. They are not given compensatory time for those overtime hours. They are not exempted from the furloughs and pay cuts imposed to make up for the county’s budgetary shortfalls even when legal time parameters and mandatory court dates require them to be at work when others are not. Nevertheless, these prosecutors get the job done. Why is there never any recognition or mention of this in The Sun’s articles and editorials?

Police officers and firefighters are truly front line bastions of public safety. That their jobs are incredibly difficult and extraordinarily dangerous is not subject to dispute. The Sun has recognized this in the past. These careers take a tremendous toll on the special breed of men and women who pursue them and on their families.

I personally know dedicated and courageous police officers who have been injured, shot at, shot, maimed, and killed in the line of duty while protecting our lives, homes and property. Just recently the Inland Empire mourned a young Riverside police officer gunned down in the line of duty.

I personally watched in awe as dedicated and courageous firefighters faced towering flames, searing heat and suffocating smoke to save lives, homes and property, including mine, during the Panorama and Old fires. Just this month, the media extensively covered the funeral of a veteran firefighter, affectionately known as “Grandpa,” who lost his life in the line of duty just a year short of retirement.

What is such courageous dedication to public service and public safety worth? At the time these brave men and women are facing these dangers to protect us all; it is seemingly worth quite a bit. Praise is showered on them from all corners, including politicians and the media. Why then, once the bullets stop and the fires are out, are they condemned for perceived “benefit excesses” that are categorized by The Sun as “incredibly generous”? To me, this seems the height of hypocrisy.

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