If there was any hope to be gleaned from a 2010 report finding that Massachusetts ranked third from the bottom nationwide for funding police training, it was that the report would lead to a remedy.
But nearly three years later, frustrated law enforcement officials around the region say that basic and specialized training, from fingerprinting to dealing with the mentally ill, continue to be underfunded, and next year local departments won’t receive any state money at all.
Dan Zivkovich, executive director of the state committee that sets training standards, acknowledges shortcomings due to declining state revenues.
It wasn’t long after he took the helm of the Municipal Police Training Committee in 2009, at the height of the recession, that his budget was cut about 20 percent, to $2.5 million. After fixed costs, including personnel, the committee is left with about $200,000 to allocate for training courses and instructors, he said.
“There have been trade-offs in this transition from 40 employees to 21,” said Zivkovich. “Our training records are not what they should be. Our trainer certifications are mediocre. Training programs have become stale. . . . We as an agency have not taken the time to make the curriculum updated and uniform. Even our own academies were teaching the same curriculum in different ways.”
Despite the lack of state funds, the committee still sets annual training requirements, develops the curriculum, and provides instructors for local, environmental, and University of Massachusetts police.
Typically, the committee has required 40 hours of training per officer per year, and paid for instructors, but has relaxed the requirement the past two years because of budget constraints. However, when the new fiscal year starts on July 1, the 40-hour requirement will be reestablished, but the committee won’t allocate any money for professional development, leaving local police to foot the entire bill.
Instead, the agency will dedicate its budget entirely to revising the curriculum for recruits, last updated 20 years ago, said Natick Police Chief James G. Hicks, who is also a voting member of the Municipal Police Training Committee.
“The frustration level that I see is maybe the legislators don’t feel [funding the training] is their area of responsibility, that maybe it’s up to individual departments,” said Hicks, who is also president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association. “Given a choice, police departments are going to do what’s best for them, and if it’s best for them not to do any training, that’s what they’re going to do, and that’s not adequate enough.”
Shifting costs to local police departments can lead to disparities in training between those in wealthier communities, which may be able to afford special instruction in areas like cyber crime, and those in poorer areas, said Everett Chief Steven A. Mazzie.
“It’s gotten pretty bad,” Mazzie said. “We try to be creative. We try to find free training when we can. We do a lot of online training.”
Of his $15,000 training budget, Mazzie said he spends $7,000 on online training alone for his 91 officers. Promoting someone to detective probably means sending him or her out of state to be trained in new duties, like how to conduct rape investigations, he said.
“In this profession, everybody has to be trained because you can use force that can result in the death of somebody,” Mazzie said. “When I hear that $2.5 million covers all [training] . . . it disturbs me. People are relying on us to provide these services.”
Echoing police frustrations, a national study released last month by Cambridge-based Strategies for Youth found Massachusetts among the states that underfund new officer training programs, particularly in the treatment of juveniles.
“Every failed social policy or problem gets dumped in police officers’ laps, and they’re given one tool: arrest. And that’s not fair to them,” said Lisa Thurau, the organization’s founder and executive director. “The number one person people call when they’re having problems with kids is police. It’s not in my interest to blame the police; it’s in my interest to say we need to support them.”
The 2010 study found the state pays $187 on training per officer annually, compared with Vermont’s $1,525 and New Hampshire’s $933. In what could be the first positive sign since the study, legislation has been filed on Beacon Hill that would shift police training funding away from the state budget and onto automobile insurance companies by way of a surcharge on policyholders.
The bill’s lead sponsor, Senator James E. Timilty, a Walpole Democrat, cochaired the special committee that led the 2010 study.
If every auto insurance holder in the state paid an annual $3 surcharge, it could generate an estimated $5 million for the training committee, Zivkovich said. The idea is modeled after the state’s firefighter training program, which is fully funded by a 0.5 percent surcharge on homeowners’ insurance policies.
A similar proposal calling for an auto insurance surcharge was unsuccessfully introduced in Governor Deval Patrick’s budget last year. That left some law enforcement officials feeling discouraged about the current bill’s chances, said Plymouth Police Chief Michael E. Botieri.
“It’s an unfunded mandate,” Botieri said. “Each chief keeps their officers trained to the level that they think is appropriate. You won’t be called to task on it until a lawsuit is filed and you have to account for it. I don’t want to be the chief to say, ‘I didn’t train [my officers] because the state didn’t fund us.’ ”