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Police Salaries: If You Get What You Pay For, Why Don't We Pay More?

by Darryl Bell

This is an age old discussion with a slightly different twist... why don't we pay a police officer more than a college professor or a sanitation engineer?

To answer this question properly, we must first pose and contemplate the nature of the answers to the following: Why do few departments scoff at criminology as irrelevant to every day police work? Why do we give a gun and a badge to a man or woman with the authority to take or save a life based on their discretion or with the authority to ruin or protect a life based on their discretion, yet not require them to have more than a high school education in some cases. To be an officer in the armed service you must show extreme distinction in the ranks to be selected for OCS (Officer's Candidacy School) or you must have a college degree to receive a commission and have license to lead men in the pursuit of the death, destruction, defeat of a clearly defined enemy (in most cases). But, we abandon officers with little more than 1000 hours of training and a polygraph test, to our complex and complicated streets and multiple cultures to distinguish between the good and the bad and all the shades in between. Some of our law enforcement officers are the most brilliant men and woman to walk the streets - incredibly intelligent, incredibly intuitive, and incredibly uneducated. Lets not make the mistake of believing that education is the silver bullet (I couldn't resist). A good education does not guarantee competency anymore than it guarantees a good Lawyer, or a good Doctor, or a moral person. Yet can we not agree it is a tool, when placed in the hands of a good person, that can allow that person to elevate themselves, the environment, and the people around them to a higher level?

Having served for a short time as a sworn law enforcement officer in the line of duty I had the honor and privilege to serve next to some of the bravest, but unequipped men and woman I have ever met. I had a chance to deconstruct the life of a P.O. and see it on a molecular level, at least for a short time ("stay tuned" for follow up articles on a Recipe for Corruption - The Law Enforcement Inferno). In the short sighted system we have inherited of contemporary law enforcement, it is hard to tell, day to day, who is the victim or the perpetrator - society or cops, the government or cops, the judicial system or cops.

Are we benign or ignorant not to believe or understand that if we systematically fail to pay men and woman for the work that they do on a level reflecting of the importance that the job has, then we devalue the individual in that job and devalue the importance of the job itself. Do you not get what you pay for? Or does this tried and true axiom fail to apply to police work. Can we expect to get the best, to be the best, to do the best if we pay them less than what is commiserate with the minimum equivalent college level combination of skills and education. We ask an office to be physically fit - to run, to jump, to think on their feet in life or death situations, to understand and deconstruct complex domestic environments, to be teachers, financial analysts, psychologists, sociologists, students of the law, and management trainees. You read that in a job description and the minimum starting salary is $95,000 with 3 weeks vacation, 401k and pension. Our men and woman in uniform are capable of achieving this bar, if that is where we (society) set the expectation and provide them with the tools to achieve it. We demand nothing less than this for our specialized agencies, like FBI, DEA and the like. Are we a society comfortable with leaving local law enforcement handcuffed with low paying under funded positions to be the stepchildren of specialized agencies? I personally am more affected every day, by the guy in the cruiser on the corner than I am ever by the men in black and that is not just because I am black. Police officers (who believe it or not risk their lives ever day just by putting on a badge or a uniform because of the crazy fellow members of our overstressed private citizens) do not deserve to be relegated to second class members of the honorable profession of law enforcement!

We need to set the level of expectation, hire them accordingly, grandfather them in appropriately, pay them, equip them, and fire them if they fail to do the job as they are paid to do it. A society where law enforcement officers are expected to be criminologists as well as good people worthy of the public trust, has a much better chance of being safe and secure. You might just find out you may need less money for less jails… but that touches on my next crusade - appropriate pay for Educators.


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