No one would question that police officers deserve to earn top-notch salaries. They work long hours and there's certainly a risk factor to their jobs. However, that doesn't mean they should get every perk in the book. What Massachusetts should ask itself is "are police details fair or unfair?" What's beyond infuriating, though, is that just answering that question isn't enough, because the lobbying effort on their part is truly expansive, complete with
My state rep made it a point to tell me how many phone calls she was getting on that issue, because it certainly makes a big dent in the wallets of police officers (it also helps to have a union). Detail work is something any officer or patrolman could pick up, get time and a half for it, then move on. What people may not realize in this debate, though, is that, in order to pay police officers well, it isn't a choice between having details or not. Doing construction details makes up around half of an officer's overtime opportunities, so they still would be able to earn salaries and benefits that are the envy of almost any other municipal employee and those in the private sector - so instead of earning $90k a year, some of these officers may be earning $70-80. Someone call the poor house!
These perks are so lucrative, in fact, that they don't exist anywhere else across this country, or even the world: no other state uses police details, and I know of no other western democracy that does either. The rest of the world gets it: why pay police officers, who are obscenely overqualified for detail work, when we can train and hire any number of willing people who need the jobs, proving hundreds across this state with a livable wage, complete with benefits, while saving this state hundreds of millions. This shouldn't even be a debate.
What's even more important to realize, however, is that someone is paying for this absurd, ancient, never-ending cold Massachusetts has been trying to get rid of: you! Some estimate that switching to flag details instead of police details would save this state $100 million a year. Whether that's really the case, or if it would be closer to tens of millions a year, I don't know, but the potential savings for Massachusetts are staggering. Those countless millions have to come from somewhere, so where is it coming from? It's the school that just shut down in your town. It's the state program for homeless shelters that just got slashed. It's the 20 municipal employees who were just laid off in your community. Not satisfied enough? It's the hundreds of extra dollars you will have to pay when you want to do basic construction on your home or business.
Certainly, we need trained professionals monitoring construction sites across this state. Do we need those trained professionals to also be trained on how to safely handcuff a violent criminal? On how to do a drug bust? Or successfully investigate a crime, collecting clues and eyewitness reports? These are just some things that police officers know how to do that aren't required of someone monitoring a construction site and making sure it's safe. Why do we need police officers there?
Police officers earn a lot of money per hour for a reason - they're highly trained to do a wide assortment of important work. However, sometimes that scope can become too big. Why pay police officers to do something that they're so overly qualified for when we could pay and train others to do the detail work for far less? This is macroeconomics 101. We could create hundreds of new jobs, save this state hundreds of millions and still afford to pay our police officers the great premium they deserve. Politicians are always talking about finding creative solutions to save money. While I can't exactly say this is a creative solution - 49 other states have beat us to the punch - it's certainly a solution, and that's the message politicians need to get as they build up the courage to do the right thing. Every year they wait, the people of this state lose out.
Update: Bill Menzi has much more. Also, as the Mayor of Methuen, he clearly the political courage on this issue that we need on Beacon Hill. One key bit: switching from police officers to flag details would save the state 36.5-66.5 million a year, according to the Beacon Hill Institute. I've heard other sources suggest $100 million, but I'd bet the Beacon Hill Institute is closer to the truth. When there's a billion dollar deficit, saving 66.5 million is 6.65% closer to the promised land - basically, it should be the easiest, most productive decision out there in getting us out of the red.