Police officers in Massachusetts could receive one-time bonuses of up to $5,000 should they take on additional training under a bill filed last week by Gov. Charlie Baker centered on creating a police certification system.
The vision is to incentivize officers to go beyond the necessary minimum training laid out in the sweeping proposal, which comes amid the nationwide movement to reduce funding for law enforcement, and instead funnel resources into other initiatives such as anti-violence and public health programs.
The inclusion of the bonus system in Baker’s bill even came as a surprise to some police leaders, according to The Boston Globe. For others, the concept echoed the Quinn Bill, a controversial 1970s law that gives higher pay to officers who have attained college degrees.
The newspaper reports the state pulled funding for that program — once a $50 million expense — about 10 years ago. Local governments are no longer required to make up the state’s share of the cost.
Still, Baker’s bill — which seeks to establish a system to uniformly certify, and de-certify, police officers — would provide financial opportunity to officers to advance their training in key areas, including first aid, de-escalation tactics, and narcotics training.
Here’s what to know:
What’s in the bill
Baker’s proposal would allow for any officer to receive a bonus for taking on additional training beyond the state’s required minimum.
That consists of completing coursework as determined by the state’s Municipal Police Training Committee, which the committee could either administer itself or through accredited institutions, according to the filing.
While the courses would cover subjects the committee lays out, Baker’s bill said they should at least cover: advanced first aid; advanced domestic violence and sexual violence training; advanced de-escalation techniques; narcotics training; advanced training in bias-free policing; and foreign language proficiency “relevant to police work in the jurisdiction in which the individual licensed officer is employed,” the proposal says.
“Skill development in areas such as de-escalation, foreign language proficiency, and bias-free policing are crucial,” Maura Driscoll, a Baker spokeswoman, told the Globe in a statement. “In turn, (that training) will benefit municipalities and yield higher caliber public safety officials.”
The legislation says an annual base salary increase would be granted in increments depending on an officer’s level of achievement, with Level 1 including a $1,000 bonus, Level 2 at $2,500, and Level 3 at $5,000.
The committee would decide which courses align with those levels.
According to the bill, municipalities would be required to pay for the bonuses of their employed officers, while the commonwealth will handle bonuses for the Massachusetts State Police. The proposal does not designate specific state funding for the initiative.
Officers would be limited from receiving bonuses for more than one level in a given fiscal year.
What advocates and law enforcement leaders are saying
The prospect of bonuses took some in the law enforcement field by surprise, the Globe reports.
“Conceptually, we think it’s a great idea,” Mark Leahy, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, told the newspaper. “Practically, we will have to see how it fits.”
State revenues are taking a significant hit — potentially as much as $6 billion — because of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s unclear whether cities and towns would be able to provide such bonuses, should they be included in the law, when the dust settles.
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, told the Globe Baker’s overall bill is a “welcome step,” although Rose is among those voicing need to reallocate police funding, a prospect Baker himself said he is not willing to do.
“Training should be part of the job. But it shouldn’t be a separate basis for payment,” Rose told the outlet regarding the bonus proposal.
“I don’t think we want to be in a situation of what the Quinn Bill became, which is an unfunded mandate,” she added. “What isn’t needed is more money pouring into these departments.”
According to state Rep. Russell Holmes, the Mattapan Democrat who pushed for a police certification system for years and worked with Baker on the bill over the past year, the bonuses were the governor’s idea.
Holmes, speaking with the Globe, acknowledged “the excesses we’re seeing are in overtime” and referenced a recent report from the newspaper showing that Boston Police overtime spending skyrocketed by 84 percent over the past 10 years.
But he also noted the bonus amount “was not very large,” and that the state’s Black and Latino Legislative Caucus worked to advocate that the financial incentives go “toward things that we think are most important.”
“But, it wasn’t something that was one of the major priorities of the caucus,” Holmes told the Globe.