Sunday, May 25, 2008

Get Rid of Police Details

Sadly, one of the truths to life is that it's always easier to protect something than get rid of it. Massachusetts was never going to legalize marriage equality through the legislative process, because it's so tough to get people to change their positions on it and make them do the right thing, all the while it's so easy for politicians to do nothing. However, when the court legalized marriage for us, suddenly the whole marriage equality fight became a lot easier. Why? Massachusetts was suddenly in the position of protecting marriage equality and, as already said, it's always easier to protect something than change it. Maybe that's why we're still stuck in a situation where Massachusetts is wasting a $100 million more per year paying police officers to monitor construction sites than we could paying flag details livable wages with benefits.

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 police officers and their spouses people making illogical and angry comments on the internet.

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.


Anonymous said...

Details will stay because pols have no balls.

Anonymous said...

Where is your binkie Sal and whare is Duval on this issue? Same old crap.

beth said...

I gag every time I hear the cops defend their presence at details. How many times are they sitting in their cruisers? I have NEVER EVER seen one directing traffic or giving a citation on the highway, but I've sure seen unnecessary traffic backups they could have resolved and drivers who should have been ticketed.
This is a gravy train no one has the courage to stop in an election year or face union outrage, besides the legislators have their own gravy train to protect.
That's why the pension giveaways that will further burden cities and towns.
What a shame Robme destroyed the state Republican Party. This is yet another reason a viable 2 party system is needed.

Anonymous said...

One of the most important pieces of equipment the staties have when they're getting ready for one of their road "details" is the small dvd players, so they can sit in the cruisers and watch movies. Maybe not the local cops, but quite a few staties do, I know.

david said...

The union "power" will continue until other voter get involved and out shout the unions.
Spending this money is no longer justified or acceptable as more than gravy for these well paid union members.

Anonymous said...

My little town spent $1/2 million on this foolishness. How can we pretend to be business friendly when this continues?

Time to let it go!

Ryan, if you think these guys are only making $10K or $20K extra in details, you need to do your homework. Try $40K or $50K. It's disgusting. They're well paid. Let's stop the gravy.

Anonymous said...

Actually, your little town made 50,000.00 on details. Details are paid for by the company running the contruction, towns add 10% as an administrative fee on top of what the cop makes. So if there were 1/2 million in details your town made 50 grand. Also Gov Patrick said it will save 100 million in 20 yrs, 5 million per year or 0.017% of the budget. That is state money savings on state projects, however towns like yours will lose 50,000 per year x 352 cities and towns is a minimum of 17.5 million per year towns will lose. Beacon hill saves 5 million, towns are out 18 million or more. Not very bright.

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