Editorial: An educated approach to public safety

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

Local officials were holding their collective breaths Wednesday when Gov. Deval Patrick detailed his $1 billion in cuts to the state budget but let out a temporary sigh of relief when local aid and education funding were largely spared in this round.

One of the items that had been rumored to be discussed and may still be on the table is the Police Career Incentive Pay Program, commonly known as the Quinn Bill, which rewards police officers with pay increases based on attaining degrees in law and criminal justice.

We think eliminating this incentive program would be misguided and have a deleterious effect on both the quality of officers recruited and retained on forces and the morale of police who are being asked to take more than their share of cuts as the state tightens its economic belt.

The Quinn Bill is not a perk; it is a promise to police and taxpayers that we would have the best trained and educated forces available.

Since the bill was first passed in 1970, the number of police officers with degrees has skyrocketed and with it, the reasoned and critical thought processes and responses we seek in our public safety officers has gone up as well.

More than 9,000 police officers in 252 participating cities and towns, including all but three in our region, qualify for some sort of education pay incentive through the Quinn Bill.

Our local police chiefs and command staff are no longer merely products of longevity and “old boy networks” but true professionals with multi-dimensional backgrounds earned from cross-discipline applications from expanding criminal justice degree programs at some of the state’s best public and private higher education institutes.

The law, named after former Attorney General Robert Quinn, holds out incentives to rank and file as well as superior officers, much like we do with teachers and other public service professionals, that if they make the sacrifices and put in the time and effort to improve their training and education, they would be rightfully compensated.

That is good business sense and wise use of public money. The total cost of the incentive program is about $100 million, with the state picking up half the reimbursement and participating cities and towns paying the remainder.

The incentives range from 10 percent for some college credits and associates degrees to 30 percent for masters. We can think of few other professions that do not reward higher education with better pay. Why should police not receive it as well?

There was a time in the years after the law first took effect that some colleges and universities became diploma mills, handing out degrees and credits for police academy training and CPR certification.

Several changes have since been made including the most recent in 2004 that limits the type of degrees and which schools that can qualify for the incentive.

There may be cause to tighten up the regulations going forward such as limiting the lower end of incentives unless an officer goes for a further degree and ensuring all credits and degrees meet the more stringent guidelines for criminal justice and law enforcement training. But there should be no changes for those who already met the burden based on our promises.

Patrick recently eliminated some police details in favor of civilian flaggers, a move we backed. But that is for duties outside their job performance and training. This has a direct correlation on their qualifications to perform to high standards we set.

We want and expect a professional police force. We should pay for it like we do with any other professional we hire.

The Patriot Ledger