Paying by degrees: Towns take different approaches to police education incentives

Southbridge police officers hired after Jan. 1, 2010, receive a $1,000 bonus for having an associate degree, and $4,000 for a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

However, Southbridge officers hired before 2010 receive 10 percent increases on their base salaries for holding an associate degree, 20 percent for a bachelor’s degree and 25 percent for a master’s.

The latter are the full benefits that officers across the state once enjoyed under the so-called Quinn Bill.

That means a Southbridge officer hired before 2010 with a bachelor’s degree and a base salary of $55,000 gets an extra $11,000.

Southbridge Police Chief Daniel R. Charette said the disparity puts Southbridge at a competitive disadvantage.

He is petitioning the town manager and town council to have the younger officers’ incentives match those of the senior officers.

“We have lost a lot of people,” Chief Charette said. “There’s no question some of the people are going because they’re …going to a department that still has (full Quinn Bill benefits).”

He said the disparity has made his department a “training ground,” and estimated that it costs $80,000 per year to train an officer through the Police Academy and have the officer street-ready.

“We will be ahead of the game financially if we simply pay the officers we have under the same regulations as the Quinn Bill,” Chief Charette said.

Enacted by the Legislature in 1970, the Quinn Bill calls for salary incentives to officers who pursue higher-education degrees in law enforcement and criminal justice.

The state had been paying half of the benefit, allocating $50.2 million in 2009 to cities and towns. Because of a lack of funding, the state stopped paying cities and towns July 1, 2009.

The Quinn Bill established the Police Career Incentive Pay Program in response to a 1967 report by the Massachusetts Committee in law enforcement that indicated Massachusetts police officers were some of the least educated in the country, according to a study by Curry College professor Rebecca L. Paynich.

Ms. Paynich said in the study that having college-educated officers has been a strong recommendation of nearly every national commission and that many agencies nationwide offer incentives to their officers to pursue higher education.

When the state stopped paying half the Quinn Bill money to cities and towns, communities and their police unions bargained different deals.

A. Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association in Grafton, said no central repository identifies which communities opted to keep full Quinn Bill incentives.

“Some communities just said we’ll keep paying it because it’s the right thing to do,” said Mr. Sampson, Shrewsbury’s retired police chief. “Others said we’re not paying the state’s 50 percent, and shut if off.”

That set off negotiations across the state.

“A lot of towns gave up increases for two or three years, and then the towns reinstated the other 50 percent (the state’s half) of the Quinn Bill,” he said.

Some towns negotiated a change of benefits, such as increasing the town’s health insurance contribution or opting out of civil service. Some towns negotiated that new hires should get full Quinn Bill benefits, but people coming in would not, Mr. Sampson said.

“That has created a problem now that we’re a couple of years into it. You have two guys side by side, and one guy is getting $15,000 a year more than the other for the same job,” he said. “That is creating some inner turmoil.”

Webster offers full Quinn Bill benefits, but it was two years after the state stopped funding, in 2011, before the town took on the state’s share.

Webster then negotiated a settlement that did not include retroactive pay, according to Town Administrator John F. McAuliffe, but fully funded the program in the town budget moving forward.

“Most every, if not every community locally, settled right away,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “We were the lone holdout on not settling. Our two-year negotiation process started to be a major drain on morale.”

Worse than that, the Webster official said, Webster was at risk of officers being lured away by communities paying full Quinn benefits.

Webster Police Chief Timothy J. Bent said he supports educational incentives for officers.

“I think it’s important to encourage your people to get a degree,” Chief Bent said.

Most of Webster’s officers have degrees, he said.

“We’re hiring people with college degrees, and we should be,” he said.

Millbury’s three-year police contract, which expires in June 2016, stipulates that all officers will be paid full Quinn Bill benefits.

The Millbury pact also calls for officers hired prior to July 1, 2009, who do not have a bachelor’s degree to get one within five years, starting Jan. 1, 2012.

Millbury Town Manager Robert Spain, who described himself as no fan of the Quinn Bill, said, “If you want people to have degrees, then make them have degrees. And that’s in effect what we did in our contract.”

West Boylston, which also has full Quinn Bill benefits, requires that officers hired after Jan. 1, 2011, have a bachelor’s degree.

West Boylston Police Chief Dennis Minnich said that someone hired in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree could make more than someone who was already in the job for years with an associate degree. That would seem unfair, but fortunately it hasn’t happened, he said.

Chief Minnich went on to call it “twisted” that the state pays for state police funding for Quinn Bill incentives. “It was local police that took the hit,” he said.

Asked about the value of a degree, Chief Minnich said, “I’ve never looked at it that way, that if you have a master’s degree, that you’re a better person. But I think the more different experiences that you have in your life, the more well-rounded you are, it helps you to be a better decision-maker.”

William J. McCarthy, professor and coordinator of the criminal justice department at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, said that he favors an educated, well-trained police force.

Mr. McCarthy said that in class, he stresses the need to have a college-educated police force because a college education provides officers with tools such as problem-solving skills, interpersonal communication skills and conflict resolution techniques.

Research, the professor said, has demonstrated that police agencies that employ college-educated officers have fewer citizen complaints against the officers.

Mr. McCarthy said that a number of schools, including Greenfield Community College and Massachusetts Bay Community College in Wellesley, have stopped participating in the Police Career Incentive Pay Program.

“Some colleges have decided, because of the rules that have been implemented and the steps that you have to take — the assessments, the evaluations, the reports you have to submit — there are a couple of colleges that are no longer participating.”

QCC, which still participates and has an online program, has told schools that are no longer participating to send students who are part of that Quinn Bill program to QCC.

Eighty-seven percent of all police departments nationwide do not require anything more than a high school diploma or the equivalent, and Massachusetts does not require an associate degree to take the test to get hired as a police officer, Mr. McCarthy said.

Contact Brian Lee at brian.lee@telegram.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BleeTG

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