Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Need for Higher Pay for Law Enforcement...with a Catch

The Need for Higher Pay for Law Enforcement...with a Catch

 This post is going to make the case for increasing pay for law enforcement officers...with a catch. The catch is that increased pay for law enforcement must be accompanied for increased public scrutiny, accountability, and a concerted push to hire law enforcement that are college educated. We cannot simply increase the pay of law enforcement without simultaneously increasing our expectations. The public must continue to scrutinize their local law enforcement to ensure they are upholding their stated missions and purpose, new measures of police performance must be created that extend beyond the volume of arrests they make, and poor performing officers (some might say "bad apples") must be promptly removed from their positions or switched into non-patrol positions.

Empirical examinations have consistently found that college educations are correlated with improved police performance. Police performance can be measured using a number of indicators such as communication skills, report writing abilities, the number of citizen complaints, receptiveness to new training standards, and even decision-making abilities (See Smith & Amodt, 1997 for example). Many departments have made efforts to increase their recruitment of college educated individuals by offering pay incentives, but this does not go far enough. Some research has even suggested using federal funding to increase the education levels of police officers (See Roberg & Bonn, 2004).

I must point out that individual departments and police administrators should not be blamed for a lack of college educated officers in departments. Like K-12 teachers, police have been undervalued in society for far too long. This means that society must come together and push for increased pay for the entire occupation of policing. That being said, police must realize that with increased pay and benefits comes increased scrutiny and accountability. Training should begin to focus more on deescalation tactics, and community policing should be embraced and practiced in every department.

Another shift needed to aid police departments nationwide would be to change from a crime control model to a treatment model for dealing with drugs in the United States. All it takes is one look at the newspaper's crime section to see that a bulk of arrests are for drug possession and distribution. If heavy handed policing is to be used for drugs, then the target offenders should be large-scale suppliers, not users or low-level dealers. The war on drugs has contributed to more women in prison (See sentencingproject.org fact sheet), more children with parents in prison (See sentencingproject.org fact sheet), and racial disparities across the American criminal justice system (Bobo & Thompson, 2006). All of the negative financial and social costs of the war on drugs, but essentially no positive outcome of the so-called war waged. Instead, it could be argued that police are feared and not trusted because of their role in enforcing failed polcies associated with the war on drugs.

It is time to let police officers be heroes to all of the community, and not the enforcers of failed policies rooted in political propaganda. It is time police officers are expected to have a college degree. It is time we start holding police accountable for poor performance. Finally, it is time we start paying law enforcement officers what they deserve. It is a tough job, with tough hours, and they deserve to be better compensated for their public service.