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posted: 1/29/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: Crime, cops and the privilege of a pension

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Most taxpayers would agree they have certain expectations for public employees.

That ramps up for police officers -- the men and women who fight the bad guys to keep us safe.

Part of that vision of responsibility, taxpayers will surely insist, is that our cops don't become bad guys themselves. Failure to do so should have serious consequences.

Which brings us to Leroy Kuffel, 55, of unincorporated Lake Villa Township. Kuffel was a Round Lake Beach police officer when he was arrested in 2009 on charges he molested a 16-year-old girl. He retired shortly afterward and was convicted of the crime the following year.

Despite that betrayal of public trust, Kuffel is allowed to collect a pension that grows at 3 percent per year. In 2026, he will top $1 million in pension benefits received.

The reason he's entitled to his government pension? Kuffel committed his crime while off duty.

That's an exception that strains the bounds of expectation. When you are sworn to uphold the law, the time clock shouldn't be a loophole. With that theme in mind, other states have put sharper teeth into pension forfeiture regulations for law enforcement officers convicted of certain felony offenses committed while off duty. Illinois should follow them.

In an On Guard story last week, Daily Herald staff writer Bob Susnjara reported the law in Ohio requires a criminal court judge to order a pension forfeiture in convictions of felony offenses, such as a sex crime against a minor.

The affected officer is entitled to receive any personal contributions accumulated toward a pension.

And Ohio is not alone in its concern. In Pennsylvania, a Democratic state senator plans to reintroduce legislation to prevent state and municipal employees, including police officers, from collecting pensions if they are convicted of a sex offense against a minor and are required to register with authorities.

Kuffel, according to testimony in his trial, had sex three times with the girl at his house. He was convicted in a jury trial in May 2010, and his sentence included a 60-day local jail term and sex-offender treatment among other penalties. With his 29-year law enforcement career now over, he is classified as a "predator" on the Lake County sheriff's sex-offender website.

As policeman, especially, Kuffel surely should have been aware of both the illegality and the consequences of his actions. Had those included the potential loss of his pension, would he have demonstrated more discretion -- and thus prevented the abuse of a teenage girl? One has to think he would at least have thought twice. And if he did go on to commit the crime and then lose his pension upon his conviction, that could have had a deterrent effect on others in the future.

In any case, he and others like him shouldn't be rewarded with a lucrative pension just because they weren't wearing badges when committing their crimes. That's the least taxpayers should have a right to expect when the officers they employ violate their trust.

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