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Phoenix police raises may look bad, but here's why they make sense

·3 min read
Phoenix police recruits will get a heft salary bump, starting at nearly $69,000 annually.
Phoenix police recruits will get a heft salary bump, starting at nearly $69,000 annually.

The optics look terrible: Phoenix police have been so bad at their jobs that federal monitors have had to come in and investigate claims of systemic brutality and racism – and now taxpayers are going to give them a raise?!

That’s an oversimplification, however, of a complicated problem.

A nearly $20 million boost that will increase starting salaries across several positions within the force should improve the problems that have contributed to widespread mistrust and a nationwide protest movement.

The “defund the police” crowd won’t agree. Their position is largely that money spent on police would be better spent on services to help the community, and it’s a valid point.

But it’s always been my contention that giving police more money and more assistance would be most helpful.

I'd rather be stopped by a highly qualified officer

Financial stress is real stress. If officers are underpaid, that will come out in the line of duty.

Low pay creates a slack workforce. If a job doesn’t pay at least a middle-class salary, it all but deters the best of the best.

Also, this boost doesn’t preclude the city from aggressively exploring and expanding other reform efforts, including mental health services and the social-service companion worker program to assist officers with tense situations.

Think about it: Would you rather be pulled over by a scarcely qualified and intellectually incurious cop who can’t make ends meet at home? Or an officer with a degree in psychology or sociology who earns a comfortable middle-class salary after beating out several other candidates to win his job?

I’ve covered Black Lives Matter protests in Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Phoenix, and the thread of commonality from thoughtful protesters was always that police seemed to operate with impunity. The argument was that no one, not even officers, should be above the law, and if they were credibly accused of wrongdoing, especially murder, then they should face prosecution.

The ultraliberal “defund” movement is a new push that never survived even rudimentary scrutiny. Barack Obama in 2020 criticized the notion of “defunding the police” as a “snappy slogan” that causes reform advocates to lose “a big audience the minute you say it, which makes it a lot less likely that you’re actually going to get the changes you want done.”

Obama went on to call for commonsense plans that include diversion programs to keep young people away from crime.

Raises could help - not hurt - reform efforts

It raises a good point. Reform efforts shouldn’t stop with department raises; there’s much more work to be done.

For me, I’d also like to see the raises come with expanded mental health and physical fitness programs.

Further, more community members should be trained to police themselves through the civilian investigator program so that officers can go after more cybercrime and business fraud. This would reduce conflict by reducing opportunities for police to harass people whose only crime is being poor. It would also make it less likely for police to get harassed by people angry over how they do their work.

It’s not popular to say, but police officers are victims of the current system, too. They need reform as much as anyone because the job has evolved to put them in conflict with the people they should be serving.

The raises will take recruits from about $42,000 to nearly $69,000 annually.

Officers will start at nearly $73,000, up from about $48,000.

Several other positions, from commanders to the chief, will receive hefty bumps, as well.

It looks terrible, like Phoenix police are being rewarded for bad behavior, but the pay raises aren’t coming from new taxes. The money comes from reallocating funds attached to hundreds of unfilled positions within the force.

This boost should help address the underlying problems that have led to federal scrutiny and a widespread protest movement – as long as reform efforts don’t stop here.

Reach Moore at gmoore@azcentral.com or 602-444-2236. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @SayingMoore.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Phoenix police raises will prevent bad behavior, not reward it