Committee considers boosting education requirements for officers

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A committee charged by the Board of Higher Education with examining the police education requirements in Massachusetts is due to make its final report to the board on May 16.
 
The Committee on Police Education and Training has been meeting regularly since last fall to examine the education and training requirements for police officers. The committee comprises educators from community colleges and police chiefs from across Massachusetts.
 
The only current education requirement for police officers is a high school diploma or HiSET (High School Equivalency Test, formerly the GED). While municipalities that have opted out of the Civil Service system can adopt further requirements, those still in the Civil Service system cannot.
 
Part of what is driving this effort is a body of evidence that shows improved policing outcomes for communities that have higher educational requirements. Communities with higher education requirements saw fewer complaints filed against police, more positive relationships between police and residents, and fewer instances of firearms being used in the line of duty.
 
The committee is also preparing to make recommendations that may give colleges and universities the opportunity to offer credits toward police academy requirements. In other states, this has led to higher levels of education among police officers, while decreasing costs for cities and towns. In these states, more officers enroll in college and complete their education and training, often with financial aid, prior to becoming employed by police departments, saving municipalities the cost of salaries and academy tuition.
 
The committee is still working to finalize its recommendations before its presentation to the commissioner of higher education later in May, but the final recommendations are likely to include a requirement of an associate’s degree.
 
The committee’s recommendations could have a significant impact on Massachusetts municipalities if implemented. Municipalities would need to examine and potentially reconfigure any type of incentive pay structure currently in place for educational achievement.
 
Many municipalities still maintain some type of “Quinn Bill” funding for college degrees, or have other pay incentive structures in place. If the base education level were to be raised statewide, these programs would need to be reassessed to reflect that change, and those changes would need to be negotiated with the affected unions. The impact of any potential change would be lessened, however, by the fact that the changes would be prospective, affecting future hires but not incumbents.
 
Once it receives the committee’s recommendations, the Board of Higher Education will consider how best to proceed with potential implementation. The MMA will continue to participate in these discussions and keep members informed of forthcoming changes and proposals.