You Get The Policing You Pay For

Keli Goff confronts the “sad truth is that we as a society don’t expect, nor do we encourage, our best and our brightest to become police officers”:

According to a 2006 report by USA Today, “In an analysis of disciplinary cases against Florida cops from 1997 to 2002, the International Association of Chiefs of Police found that officers with only high school educations were the subjects of 75% of all disciplinary actions. Officers with four-year degrees accounted for 11% of such actions.”

Police Chief Magazine similarly published findings that indicate that officers with bachelor of arts degrees performed on par with officers who had 10 years’ additional experience. And yet police departments have struggled to toughen up their educational requirements in part because recruiters are concerned that the relatively low pay offered by most entry-level law enforcement jobs would not be enough to attract college graduates. (According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary of those on the police force nationwide is $56,980, but that number includes the highest paid detectives.) Of course this is another part of the problem.

We want men and women in law enforcement who treat their jobs as police officers, as what they are: some of the most important jobs in our country that carry a great responsibility. Yet we pay them on par with postal workers.

Update from a reader:

I can’t say it’s all that surprising though. Substitute the word “teacher” for “police officer” and you can find the exact same issues being discussed. I don’t think it’s a coincidence, and it’s not a stretch to say that this is all because of the decades-long campaign against organized labor, especially public employee unions. Labor has been dominated (defeated?) in other areas of the market and this is one of the last sectors to hold out. Cops and firefighters aren’t targeted as explicitly as teachers – it’s not as easy to pull that off politically – but it shouldn’t be surprising that people want the best quality in the their teachers, police, and firefighters, but they don’t want to pay for it. They have been trained to be suspicious and resentful of anyone who “takes” their tax dollars.

I know that unions and some union members give the rest a bad name, but this will get worse before it gets better as we continually and systematically demonize public spending and investment, especially in these areas.

Another reader doesn’t think higher pay is necessarily the answer:

Problem is, even in high-pay departments, you get serious problems. The pay for Seattle recruits is $4602/month. The base pay – not counting overtime – for officers from the day they are sworn in is $69k/year. Halfway through their third year this is up to $80k, and at five years it’s already $90k. Link here. And let us not forget the amazing benefits and job protection, or the fact it’s safer than ever to be a cop.

And yet, Seattle’s police recently got a scathing review by the DoJ, and the most recent mayoral race featured the issue of what to do with the department. The new mayor moved quickly. This leads me to believe that increasing pay isn’t a magic bullet, or even that it’s going to seriously solve the problem.