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Our View: State police pay standard might limit competition between agencies

May 26, 2019

Teacher pay made a lot of headlines in the past year or so, but the topic of police pay is catching up.

No surprise there. Teachers and cops are often lumped in the category of admired but underpaid public servants who deserve much more.

Yet the same economics come into play for law enforcement officers as for teachers: Their pay competes with other demands on taxpayer dollars, things like roads and school buildings and parks and water lines.

It’s hardly a random coincidence that: 1. Gov. Doug Ducey’s state budget calls for a 10 percent raise for corrections officers and Department of Public Safety officers at the same time as; 2. The Lake Havasu City Council is considering high police job vacancies blamed on relatively low pay; and 3. The Mohave County Sheriff is asking to hire almost 50 percent more deputies and at higher pay.

Both in Lake Havasu City’s police ranks and Mohave County deputy ranks, pay is said to be at least 15 percent below comparable agencies.

It’s possible, then, that double-digit pay increases could be coming at the city, county and state level. This is good for the officers. For taxpayers, it could be a different story, for they ultimately pay the cost of millions of dollars in raises.

On the expense side, it’s especially vexing that city, county and state agencies all compete with each other for new officers. Ducey’s pitch for DPS pay cited higher pay in Phoenix-area departments than with DPS.

The only way for departments to win in this scenario is to pay more than the next department. No department can fall behind. The taxpayers get the bill.

There are a couple of potential partial solutions to the current salary arms race. Neither are easy, though.

First, pay for law enforcement jobs throughout the state should be standardized with concessions for cost of living. The Legislature could create this system (and while they are at it, create a similar pay plan for teachers.)

Cities and counties would decry the lack of local control, but it would end the competition between dozens of departments in Arizona. It would limit the competition to out of state agencies.

Second, the new Arizona law on occupational licensing acceptance got the state a lot of positive recognition. It already, though, offers waivers for police officers with previous experience elsewhere to take jobs in Arizona. This may not be widely known and should be publicized around the nation to cast nets for more qualified applicants.

The competition between cities and counties and state government for qualified employees isn’t limited to police and teachers but there are a lot of people in those jobs and, thus, they account for a large chunk of local, county and state expense.

It’s essential to find methods to fairly compensate those valued employees independent of the never-ending competition between other tax-supported agencies in the state.

— Today’s News-Herald

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