|The science books tell us that dinosaurs are extinct. But 'taint necesarily so . . . at least not so for the NYC DOC variety.
They may look like other retirees dealing with the opportunities and challenges presented by the so-called Golden Years. But sometimes, if you keep close watch, a DOC Dino can be detected. Look for a tiny dinosaur pin worn in a jacket lapel.
Unlike the terrible lizards who once roamed the earth millions of years ago, this species came into existence in the early 1970s, not as a result of horror movie-style evolution, but born of self-deprecating good humor. New York authorities had just introduced a "tier system" to reign in what they regarded as excessive expansion of public employee pension benefits.
When in 1970, District Council 37 of the American Federation of State, City and Municipal Employees negotiated benefits that reportedly meant a member retiring from public agency employment after 40 years would receive 100 percent of final salary, the Legislature in Albany refused to pass the enabling legislation.
Since the state Constitution prohibits pension reductions retroactively, the lawmakers enacted legislation preserving the pension benefits of those in the public employees retirement systems prior to July 1, 1973 (Tier I), but reducing the benefits for those coming into the system after that date (Tier II). Additional Tiers with other benefit packages came still later.
Some veteran Tier I NYC DOCers saw the 7/1/73 cutoff as casting them collectively into a role akin to a species slated for extinction. They had become, in effect, the last of the Correction force having the full "original" uncut pension benefits package.
Someone among them came up with the idea of wearing a lapel-type dinosaur pin to signify their "last-of-their-kind" status. Dino pin wearing took hold among other DOCers in that pension category. There was a shared concensus, but no organization as such; just individuals acting on their own. Many of them wore the pins on their shield holders.
Eventually, the pins' significance shifted away from self-mocking their wearers' Tier I no-more-after-us category and moved more toward proudly denoting veteran service and dedicated perseverance on the job. The point of the pin became less of a needle aimed at the pension system and the wearer's unique situation in it and more a badge of honor symbolizing long years of faithful duty.
In response to New York Correction History Society inquiries, former Chief of Department Marron Hopkins recalled:
"When the City changed the pension system in the '70s and added Tier II, the dinosaurs came in to being to point out those of us that were left in Tier I. The thought was that we would one day be extinct like the dinosours. . . . .
"To the best of my memories, there was never any organized effort or events surrounding this 'group.' Only those Department members who were a part of the Tier I pension class were included in this group. I don't recall hearing about any formal process to be inducted and and most of us bought our own pins and wore them on our uniform without any fanfare or disapproval from the Department.
"At one time, I had a green dino, the original, and then I had a gold one made and wore when I was Chief. I don't know that I still have either, but I will look for it and will help put the word out that we need a picture for the CorrectionHistory.Org web site....."
Other members of the Facebook New York Correction History group wrote:
Julio Parrilla: "Retired Capt Tomas McCann gave me his as a memento of our friendship. In those days, it was an HONOR to wear the Dinosaur Pin. It was sad that when I got my 20 years in, I could not wear the pin that Capt. McCann gave me due to 'it was not part of the Uniform Code.' They should bring it back and Honor those who are still alive with one. Now that would be History."
Fred Bacchi: "Those were the pins that some of us would wear . . . "
Andrew Roane, "I was ONE of those dinosaurs and I STILL have my pins."
Bill Teska: "I learned the job from a true dinosaur. His name was Donald Spence, a great guy who took me under his wing. That was in 1982."
Sidney Head: "I was a 'Dinosaur.' Twenty years on the job, I was given my pin by Chief Hunter, I believe."
Patrick Coffey: "Someone gave me one after I did 25 years but I can't remember who. . . ."
John J Murphy Jr: "While I may enjoy fossil status with 27 years in so far, I saw the real dinosaurs in action in the commands years ago. They are indeed a breed apart. We were really lucky to work with them . . ."
Nadene Dunnavant-Forbes: "I came on the job in 1981 and during my career worked for one of the best dinosaurs in the department, Nancy Reese. She was a one of a kind woman; she had spark, class and definitely extinct in today's Correction world..... Anyone who has met Warden Nancy Reese knows what a great person she is ... a real female dinasour who worked for Gloria Lee back in the day . . ."
Alvin Brice: "Back in the days: If you wore one of these pins [above left] on the job, you were identified as a dinosaur."