Spokane police consider education merit pay
Spokane is considering paying its college-educated police more, a perk officials say will make the department attractive to high-quality candidates as the city moves to hire more officers to patrol the streets.
Already more than half the city’s police officers – 52 percent – have at least a bachelor’s degree. Another 27 percent have an associate’s degree, according to police Chief Frank Straub.
The salary incentive for getting an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, reached in negotiations for a now-rejected contract between the Police Guild and Mayor David Condon, may also have an effect on the department’s struggles with use of force. Researchers have found that officers with higher levels of education are less likely to use force to defuse combative situations.
The contract provision would grant a total 1 percent pay increase to associate’s degree-holders and a 2 percent increase to those with bachelor’s degrees by 2015. Those bumps would be modest compared to the 3.5 percent bonus for an associate’s degree and 7 percent bonus for a bachelor’s degree Spokane County pays its deputies each month.
The county also pays a 9 percent bonus each month for deputies with graduate degrees, according to its Human Resources Department.
Both the city and the Police Department say the pay bump wasn’t proposed with use of force in mind, and the independent commission charged with evaluating the department’s policies on force did not include college education among its recommendations handed down earlier this year.
Spokane police Chief Frank Straub said the incentive, one of many provisions he pushed for in the new contract, would have positive effects within the department, including instilling a cultural understanding among officers that may drive down physical confrontations.
“Our business is becoming more and more complex,” Straub said. The incentive will attract officers who are willing to invest time and energy to further their education in addition to their professional duties, he said.
The city also backs the measure.
“The bottom line is, we’re looking to hire the best and the brightest, and keep them,” city spokesman Brian Coddington said. Several law enforcement agencies throughout the state and region have adopted similar clauses in their contracts, Coddington said, and the goal is to keep Spokane competitive.
Washington state requires potential law enforcement officers to have a high school diploma or equivalent before applying. Agencies may decide whether to require further education from their recruits.
A national survey of local law enforcement agencies’ education requirements taken a decade ago indicated about one in five U.S. law enforcement agencies required 2 years of college education, and just 1 percent required a bachelor’s degree.
Spokane police require potential officers to have a high school education. The department did not specify who conferred those degrees to the 79 percent of officers who completed college work.
As a veteran of police forces in White Plains, N.Y., and Indianapolis, Straub said he sees a liberal arts education as a growing commodity among police forces nationwide.
“We will always provide the technical skills,” said Straub, who has a doctorate in criminal justice. “But the academic skills are becoming critically important.”
Though the five-member panel that looked at the department’s policies on use of force did not recommend college-educated patrols, several studies suggest a more educated police force leads to fewer instances of physical confrontation. William Terrill, a professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University and former military police officer, evaluated data from St. Petersburg, Fla., and Indianapolis and concluded that the more education an officer receives, the less likely he or she is to resort to physical force.
“There’s nothing but a positive finding when it comes to force,” Terrill said, adding that his research included officers walking beats in crime-riddled neighborhoods and took into account how long officers had been on the force.
The data used was collected almost 15 years ago, long before Straub had arrived in Indianapolis. Still, Terrill’s findings support the work of multiple academics finding a relationship between education and use of force. Researchers have not yet pinpointed what causes the inverse relationship.
It is unknown whether the higher-education provision will survive another round of contract negotiations. The City Council rejected the tentative agreement last week, claiming it didn’t go far enough to create independent investigative oversight of the department that voters demanded. If a deal can’t be reached, a state arbitrator may be asked to help the sides reach agreement.