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The Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (O.P.B.A)

The Case for a Facility Dog Program

At the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) Victims Committee meeting in November 2011, I attended a fascinating presentation by Courthouse Dogs on the use of facility dogs in the courtroom. I had never heard of using a dog to calm victims and witnesses.

As I listened to the presentation, I thought about how having a facility dog in my office would improve not only the experience of victims and witnesses, but our success in trials as well. We decided to apply for our own facility dog.

While the application was pending, we researched case law to guide our facility dog program and determine the level of support for the use of dogs in the courtroom

I learned that courthouse dogs are used around the country to support victims of crime both in and out of court. These specially-trained dogs assist witnesses who may be frightened or nervous about talking about the crime or testifying in court. According to the Courthouse Dogs Foundation’s website, there are 49 courthouse dogs in 21 states. In some states, county or district prosecutor’s offices use these courthouse dogs to provide emotional support to victims and witnesses.

There is currently no case law about the use of facility dogs in Ohio. However, there have been encouraging rulings in other states. Most recently, the Supreme Court of Washington determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing Ellie, a facility dog provided by the prosecutor’s office, to accompany a dependent, child-like victim while he testified in a burglary case. Ellie’s conduct during the trial never disrupted the proceedings.  State v. Dye, --- P.3d ----, 2013 WL 5406430, Wash. (No. 87929-0), September 26, 2013. The Court noted that the trial court instructed the jury not to make any assumptions or draw any conclusions based on the presence of the dog.

This past July a New York appellate court addressed, as an issue of first impression, a trial court’s decision to permit a 15-year old victim to have Rose, a therapy dog, assist her while testifying against her father, who had sexually abused her for four years. State v. Tohom, 969 N.Y.S.2d 123 (July 2013). The Court held that the presence of the therapeutic comfort dog did not violate the defendant’s due process right to a fair trial, nor did it violate his right to confront witnesses.

In December 2012, a California appellate court supported the use of a therapy dog at the trial of a defendant who sexually abused a 10-year old girl. People v. Spence, 212 Cal.App.4th 478, 151 Cal.Rptr.3d 374.

In the handful of court rulings regarding the use of facility dogs, courts have held that there is no prejudice in allowing a facility dog to accompany a child to court or even sit with the child while he or she testifies. The key to court support appears to be ensuring that the trial court judge instructs the jury to disregard the dog’s presence and not allow themselves to feel increased sympathy for the victim because of the dog.

In Summit County, the judges have reacted favorably to our facility dog program thus far. We anticipate adding Ohio to the growing number of states that support the use of facility dogs in the courtroom.

Canine Companions for Independence provided us with our facility dog Avery free of charge in mid-August. Since joining our staff, Avery has met with several child victims. All of the children say how much better they feel when Avery puts his head on their laps or curls up on an oversized chair with them.

We recently had a case set for trial against a defendant accused of violently raping two young girls. The girls, now seven and 10, are terrified of this man. They were somber and scared as they sat in our reception area prior to their first meeting with the prosecutors assigned to the case. The prosecutors brought Avery into the reception area to see the girls, who were immediately excited to meet the dog they had seen on the news.

The girls played with Avery while the prosecutors discussed the case with their guardian. The prosecutors believe that the girls warmed up quickly because of Avery. At that meeting and every meeting thereafter, the girls always asked if Avery would be able to sit with them while they faced their rapist. Although they were visibly distraught with the mere idea of sitting in the same room as that man, they seemed calmer knowing Avery would be with them.

Although this case was continued, the prosecutors say they are confident about the girls’ ability to face their attacker in court. Were it not for Avery, the prosecutors say they would have serious concerns about the girls being able to testify.

On a more personal note, Avery has had an unintended but positive impact on my employees. No matter how much you try, sometimes you can’t help but take to heart the injustice we see on a daily basis. Witnessing firsthand the violence and cruelty humans are capable of inflicting on one another eventually takes an emotional toll.

When child victims play with Avery, they are able to momentarily escape their trauma. Seeing children who have been through indescribable experiences smiling and laughing and acting like normal kids, when they were shaking and unable to meet your eyes just moments before, makes it a little easier to keep dealing with the horrible things we see every day.

Whether providing support to victims in prosecutor meetings or during trial, I believe a facility dog can help to reduce secondary victimization and improve case outcomes. I expect to continue to see positive results from our facility dog program, especially once we start using Avery in trials and our courts become more comfortable with the idea of a dog accompanying a victim to the witness stand.

If you are a member of law enforcement within Summit County and are working with an especially traumatized victim or witness who you think could benefit from the comfort of a facility dog, we’d be happy to bring Avery to your department. And if you are interested in creating your own facility dog program, my office can provide you with more resources and guidance.

This article is not to be considered legal advice. Please consult your police legal advisor regarding any legal issue.

Sherri Bevan Walsh

Summit County Prosecuting Attorney

 

Taking Full Advantage of Your Available Pension Benefits

As many of you are aware, while you work as a police officer in your city, at the end of your career you are entitled to benefits through the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund.  Most officers and fireman are aware of the basic benefits but many don’t know how to take advantage of the great pension system we have.

Minimum benefits start at 25 years of service.  Whether you fall under the old benefit structure of your three years highest average (benchmarked) or your highest five years average it is important to know the difference in working beyond 25 years.  After 25 years of working, should you decide to work beyond that date you will receive a multiplier of 1.5% per year of your average annual salary to a maximum amount of 72% after 33 years of service.

After 25 years of service, you also have the option of entering the deferred retirement option program (you must meet age requirements of 48 under the old system or 52 under the new system).  The deferred retirement option program allows you to freeze your benefits and have those benefits deposited into a tax deferred account upon entering into a service retirement (maximum eight years).

To maximize the benefit, if you were to work until you received the maximum of 72% and enter the deferred retirement option program completing it until the maximum of eight years you would be entitled to a very optimal retirement program.  Purchasing of prior service also counts toward the years of service you work.  You are also entitled to receive benefits that are any combination of 25 plus years of service and the minimum required time in the deferred retirement option program (minimum 5 years to collect interest).

These are only a portion of the benefits available that most members are aware of.  You are also entitled to participate in a deferred compensation program.  The most popular program is the Ohio Deferred Compensation Program.  You can contribute a maximum of $17,500 for 2014.  If you were able to contribute just a small amount per day throughout your career and balanced a portfolio along the way, you would have a nice little savings account upon your retirement.  Should a deferred compensation program not be of your liking you can contribute to an Individual Retirement Account (Roth or Traditional) which contribution limits of $6,500 for 2014.

Currently the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund also offers health care benefits at competitive rates for the member (spouse and children make the cost a lot higher).  OP&F covers 75% of the benefit cost for the participant.  The fund also offers prescription, dental and vision coverage.

I encourage everyone to revisit the benefits you have available to you and to take advantage of the full complement of options.  Please visit www.op-f.org to review the retirement benefits you have available to you.  You can download or request the service retirement brochure which explains your benefits in greater detail.

Scott Huff, Trustee

Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund

 

The Changing Real Estate and Interest Rate Environment

Interest rates have been at historic lows but have since started to rise in 2013. However, it still may make sense to act quickly before they continue to escalate.  Real estate prices have started to reverse their steep decline and long slump; so if you are thinking about selling, buying, or refinancing, now might be a good time to be aware of your options.

According to the S&P 500/Case Shiller Home Price Index, home prices nationally have risen at their fastest annual rate in seven years, with some markets seeing double-digit price gains as buyers compete in a market with dwindling inventory of properties. Many areas of the country, including some vacation-home markets, are recovering at a slower pace; and the choices for buyers remain plentiful. Not only have prices started to turn, mortgage rates have started to increase.  Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages jumped in late May to their highest levels in a year, signaling slightly higher costs for homebuyers and fueling buying demand, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. But rates still remain low by historical standards.

Due to the real estate crisis and the lack of any recovery, many potential sellers have been on the sidelines, not wanting to sell at depressed prices. Buyers have also been on the sidelines, waiting for prices to fall further, and for interest rates to drop. Sales activity is increasing due to a combination of increasing rates and rising prices and/or if there is an uptick in mortgage rates. If you have been on the sidelines, either as a seller or a buyer, be aware of the changes in the market. You're never going to time the market exactly right. What you want to see in front of you is that prices are starting to appreciate, which is where we are today.

If you are considering tapping into some of your savings to pay down your mortgage debt, make sure you keep in mind the following things.  Mortgage rates could be higher or lower in the future, as could savings rates, and your mortgage interest may be tax deductible, potentially lowering your after-tax effective rate. Don’t use too much debt, but don’t use too much of your liquid emergency fund either. Just like most things in life, the proper balance is important.

Another way to potentially take advantage of the low interest rate environment is to consolidate and refinance higher interest debt.  During these tough economic times, many people have had to resort to racking up expenses and bills on high-interest credit cards.  If you are only able to make the minimum payments on these cards, it may take an extremely long time to pay them off and your interest charges could well exceed the original expenses.

Police Officers and Firefighters may also have another alternative.  Some 457 deferred compensation plans allow for an emergency loan feature, where you can borrow some of your funds to help you out of your current situation.  This is not treated as a distribution, it is a loan because you are promising to pay it back at a reasonable rate of interest.  This is not a cure-all solution, and you want to make sure it makes sense for your personal situation before dipping into your retirement savings.  Not all plans allow for this, and there are restrictions and guidelines that must be followed.  At Lineweaver Financial Group, we currently work with several cities; and our deferred compensation plans do allow this loan feature.  If it’s something that you feel could help your current situation, let us know and we’d be happy to discuss your options.

While low interest rates can have a negative impact on your savings and checking accounts, you can still take advantage of them with your personal and household debts.  As the real estate and interest rate environment continues to change, your choices and opportunities to take advantage of the current situation could also be modified. Make sure you consult a professional before making any big decisions.  If you have further questions, feel free to give us a call.

Lineweaver Financial Group s 9035 Sweet Valley Drive s Valley View, OH 44125 s 216.520.1711

Securities offered through Sigma Financial Corporation. Member FINRA/SIPC

Lineweaver Financial Group is independently owned and operated.

Investment advisory services are offered through Sigma Planning Corporation, a registered investment advisor.

 

 

 

How to make the Employee premium contribution for health insurance benefits: “Very fair and very balanced”

With the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care) coming into our lives, perhaps Governor Kasich’s opinion about the government employees’ share of health of care cost not being “fair” was right. (Did I really just write that?).

During the Senate Bill 5/Issue 2 fiasco, in an interview at the Fox Toledo studios, the Governor said about health care:

“What we are asking government workers to do is to help share in the solution here and we’re asking them to pay 15% for their health care…”. (Open the attached YouTube site and listen @ 24 seconds http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6TxuiXHz_o)

During the same interview he justifies his idea of employees paying 15% by saying:

“So, I think it’s very reasonable and very balanced”. (YouTube above @ 56 seconds).

During this interview, and in many other interviews and commercials, the Governor used the phrase “it is only fair”. Well Governor Kasich, you got my attention.  First of all, there is a need for change.  There is also a need to re-examine the way health care costs are shared by the government employees.  Of course, this change may not be acceptable to many employees, but it will definitely make the higher paid employees reevaluate the Governor’s take on fairness.

Using the City of Cleveland as an example, I think it is only fair that employees of the City pay their fair share of taxes, whether that employees is earning $35,000.00 per year or $150,000.00 per year.

  • Each employee pays 2% of their wages in city income tax:  That is fair.
  • Each employee pays 10% of their wages to PERS or a little more to Police and Fire and PERS-LE. That is fair.
  • Each employee pays 1.45% of their wages for Medicare. That is fair.
  • Each employee pays 3% of their wages for Ohio income tax. That is fair.
  • Each pays 12% of their wages in Federal withholding. That is fair.

*(State income tax and Federal withholding may vary, but similarly situated people are paying the same).

Additionally, consumers in Cuyahoga County pay the same rate of sales tax. A person buying a Rolls Royce will pay much more in sales tax than another person buying a Chevy Cruze.  However, the tax rate is equal, so it is fair.

The same holds true in property tax rates.  For example, I looked at the Kent school system tax millage of 102.73.  As you know, the vast majority of property tax is for the school millage.

The owner of one house in the Kent school system, valued at $315,000.00, paid $4,622.00 in property tax.   The owner of another house in the same school district, valued at $130,000.00 paid $2,554.00 in property tax.  Needless to say, the family in the mobile home park down the road paid even less.  However, all are paying towards the schools and regardless of the value of your house, or the number of children you have in the school system, if any, the formula is equal and therefore; that is fair.

In fact, if you do not want to pay the above property tax rate, move from Kent to the next town over, Ravenna.  The Ravenna school millage is only 66.22.

With the Governor’s quest for fairness in mind, I went to the websites http://buckeyeinstitute.org/state-salary and http://buckeyeinstitute.org/local-salary .  Many of you are aware this is the location where you can find out the pay of “some” public employees.  The salaries posted are total compensation, including bonus and overtime.

I first looked at the local level salary site. I obtained information as to how many employees fell into a particular pay range in the City of Cleveland during the year 2010. (Most recent data available).  Keep in mind, I am not comparing the pay people receive, just how much they pay towards their health care.

Below are the pay ranges and how many employees fell into each range.

PAY RANGE NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES IN RANGE

$25,000.00 - $30,000.00                                  382

$30,000.00 - $40,000.00                                  1522

$40,000.00 - $50,000.00                                  1616

$50,000.00 - $60,000.00                                  1327

$60,000.00 - $70,000.00                                  1243

$70,000.00 - $80,000.00                                  594

$80,000.00 - $90,000.00                                  311

$90,000.00 - $100,000.00                                157

$100,000.00 -$100,000.00 PLUS                     129

The next step in this equation is that the City of Cleveland offers their full-time employees, regardless of position held or rate of pay, six (6) choices for health care.  The monthly contribution per plan is as follows:

Individual Family

Coverage Coverage

Monthly cost Monthly cost

MMO Plus                           $52.50                                   $105.00

HMO Health Ohio                $62.50                                   $125.00

Kaiser                                $67.50                                   $135.00

Next, I took the medium pay  of each earnings group. The lowest paid group, $25,000 - $30,000 has a medium of $27,500.00 and the second highest range of $90,000.00 - $100,000.00 is $95,000.00.

I then found the percentage of the employees’ annual income each group was paying for medical insurance. With the monthly premium selection outlined above, the percentage of the annual income of an employee in the $27,500.00 range would pay per year is:

Single Rate % of Employee’s Family Rate % of Employee’s

Per month Annual Income Per month Annual income

MMO Plus                               $52.50                   2.26% $105.00 4.58%

HMO Health Ohio                    $62.50                   2.72% $125.00 5.45%

Kaiser                                   $67.50                    2.95% $135.00 5.89%

Again, from the table of monthly heath care contribution, employees in the $55,000.00 range paid as follows:

% of Employee’s % of Employee’s

Single Rate Annual income Family rate annual income

Monthly for health care Monthly for health care.

As you can see, the lowest paid employees paid twice as much of their annual income for health care as the group of employees earning twice as much per year.

The employees that are making $105,000.00 paid the following percentage of their annual income for health care.

% of employee’s % of Employee’s

Single Rate annual income Family Rate annual income

Monthly for health care Monthly for health care

MMO Plus                           $52.50                   .59% $105.00             1.20%

HMO Health Ohio                $62.50                   .71% $125.00             1.43%

Kaiser                                $67.50                   .77% $135.00             1.54%

The lowest paid group paid three (3) times as much of their annual salary as a person earning $105,000.00 did.


Mayor Jackson earns $132,000.00 per year and pays the following:

% of employee’s % of Employee’s

Single Rate annual income Family Rate annual income

Monthly for health care Monthly for health care

MMO Plus                           $52.50                   .47% $105.00 .95%

HMO Health Ohio                $62.50                   .56% $125.00 1.13%

Kaiser                                $67.50                   .61% $135.00 1.22%


Finally, Mr. Ricky Smith, the City of Cleveland’s Director of the Port Control earned $208,000.00.  His percentage of annual earnings for health care is:

% of employee’s % of Employee’s

Single Rate annual income Family Rate annual income

Monthly          for health care Monthly for health care

MMO Plus                           $52.50                   .30% $105.00 .60%

HMO Health Ohio                $62.50                   .36% $125.00 .72%

Kaiser                               $67.50                    .39% $135.00 .77%

Clearly, when looking at the percentage of annual earnings paid towards health care, fairness does not exist. Would the Governor feel each group paying the same percentage of their annual income towards health care as the lowest paid group would be fair?  If so, this is a sample of what the monthly premium would be if paid at the same annual percentage:


Annual wage          $27,000.00 Vs.  $55,000.00 $27,500.00 Vs.        $55,000.00

Single Single Family Family

Monthly Monthly Monthly Monthly

MMO Plus                $52.50                      $103.58                                 $105.00                       $209.91

HMO Health Ohio      $62.50                     $124.66                                  $125.00                       $249.79

Kaiser                     $67.50                      $135.00                                  $135.00                      $269.96


How about the employee making $105,000.00?

Single Single Family Family

Monthly Monthly Monthly Monthly

Annual wage $27,000.00 Vs.  $105,000.00 $27,500 Vs.          $105,000.00

MMO Plus                 $52.50                    $197.75                                  $105.00                        $400.75

HMO Health Ohio      $62.50                     $238.00                                 $125.00                        $476.87

Kaiser                      $67.50                    $258.12                                  $135.00                        $515.37


How about Director Smith?

Single Single Family Family

Monthly Monthly Monthly Monthly

Annual wage $27,000.00 Vs.  $208,000.00 $27,500 Vs.       $208,000.00

MMO Plus                $52.50                   $392.74                                 $105.00                         $795.91

HMO Health Ohio     $62.50                   $472.00                                 $125.00                         $947.00        

Kaiser                     $67.50                   $512.65                                $135.00                          $1,023.55


I cannot believe this, but I not only find myself agreeing with Governor Kasich, but I also agree with the Americans for Tax Reform (and other conservative groups) that the ACA is a tax.

Governor Kasich was looking for the government workers to help find the solution in making premium payments fair. Well, obviously HEALTH CARE CONTRIBUTIONS SHOULD BE TREATED THE SAME WAY AS A TAX, BY A PERCENTAGE OF INCOME.

The great news is that everyone does not have to pay 5.89% of their annual income for the highest cost health package.  Actually, they can pay less than 3.3%.

In 2010, if all 7,561 employees listed on the Buckeye Institutes’ site paid the current rate for the Kaiser family coverage at $135.00 per month, the City would collect $12,248,820.00 dollars in 2010.    Of course the City did not collect nearly this amount because many employees are single or chose a lower cost plan.

However, if all 7,561 employees actually paid 3% of their pay towards health care in 2010, the City would have collected over $12,000,000.00.  On the other hand, if all employees paid 5.89% of their annual earning, like the people in the $27,500.00 range did, then the City would have collected over

$23,350,000.00. Please remember that the highest wage I used was $105,000.00 and there were 129 employees who earned more than $105,000.00 in 2010.

If health care is a tax, and I am prone to believe it is, then health care premium deductions should be based on a percentage of earnings just like:

PERS                                      10%

Medicare                                 1.45%

City income tax:                      2%

State income tax:                    3%

Health care insurance:              ?%   Well, I’m not sure, but whatever percentage it is, it would be more fair than it is now.

The government entities know how much money they receive in insurance contributions each year.  Therefore, they should have a pretty good idea of how much they should expect year to year.  I’m clearly not an accountant nor a mathematician, however, with the current computer programs and in the hands of a professional accountant, I’d bet my life that Cleveland could meet their needs for employee contributions and still charge the employees less than 5.89% of the employees annual wages.  Actually, I suspect 2.5% would cover the tab.

Let’s be fair.