Here's a disclaimer: my brother K.C. is a policeman in Falmouth (and a darn good one at that). Here's another: my Uncle Craig retired after more than thirty distinguished years on the Falmouth force. Here's some more: I took a couple of good beatings in High School from Sgt. Chris Hamilton, was taught CCD by Sgt. Doug DeCosta's mom, have played poker with Patrolman Norm Adamson, and got a tattoo with Det. Bob Murray (just kidding on that one).
For those of us who grew up in Falmouth or have lived here for a while, it is common, likely even, to have a relationship with one or more of our blue team. The fact is, though, that those relationships do not preclude or disqualify us from having an opinion on issues that impact our dedicated lawmen & women. Speaking of women in uniform, I've danced plenty of line dances while Officer Cheryl was spinning records - and consider her a dear friend.
I think I've made my disclaimers pretty clear. I've got relationships galore with members of the Falmouth Police Department - and I still have an opinion on next week's proposal by the Finance Committee to eliminate educational incentive pay for our police officers, more commonly known as the Quinn Bill. This opinion is offered in spite of, not because of my friends on the force, and comes more from experience in twelve years as a policymaker in this community.
Simply put, an educated officer is a better officer. Much like we provide a monetary incentive for those entrusted to teach our children to broaden their professional horizons through advanced degrees and provide them with incrementally higher pay to do so, the Quinn Bill educational incentive provides a graduated pay increases for officers who pursue higher education. Historically, the town has paid half of this cost, and the state has been responsible for the other half. In these difficult fiscal times, the state has backed out of their responsibility and the town is left to shoulder the entire burden for this program, which has created a highly skilled and responsible law enforcement organization in Falmouth. We should continue to pay the additional amount and keep good cops working in Falmouth.
Years ago, before our community adopted this program, we regularly would lose officers to nearby communities, namely Barnstable, and Sandwich, who offered motivation for officers to seek to better themselves and their community through the attainment of an advanced degree. Now, we rarely lose a trained an experienced police officer to another community because we recognize - the community recognizes - the need to have the best available men and women serving our neighborhoods.
The Finance Committee proposes cutting out the state's portion of this funding - around $178,000. This would be a huge shortsighted mistake. We are indeed in extraordinary times, but this lopsided solution to a much larger financial problem is simply unfair. The elimination of this educational funding for our first responders would mean an average of ten percent reduction in salaries. Other town employees are pitching in with a two day furlough, generally amounting to less than one percent of their pay. They are to be commended for being part of the solution, but the Finance Committee gets a flunking grade in the equity class.
A recent study conducted by a law enforcement executive search firm concluded that officers with a higher education were more adept in community relations, were involved in fewer citizen complaints and lawsuits, and had more frequent positive interactions with the public. Right there is a trifecta of reasons why this educational incentive should stay in place.
I don't blame the Finance Committee. They are doing the best they can under circumstances not seen in a generation. We are being required to do more with less. There are some areas, though, where we cannot skimp. Our public safety is one.
This column is reprinted from the Falmouth Enterprise.