The Town of Wakefield is looking to create its own educational incentive plan to encourage police officers to obtain higher level degrees in return for higher pay.
The proposed program comes after a new ruling last month by the state Supreme Judicial Court decided that cities and towns do not need to contribute the state's share of Quinn Bill funding, the state program that provided money for officer education programs.
"Wakefield is going to create its own educational incentive, because the Quinn Bill is defunct as we know it," said Town Administrator Stephen Maio.
The plan, up for approval by Wakefield residents as Article 10 of the upcoming Town Meeting, would go into effect retroactively to 2010 and last through 2014 as part of the Police Department's latest contract negotiations.
The Quinn Bill, which was introduced in the 1970s, provided police officers in Massachusetts cities and towns added pay for earning higher education degrees. The bill required the state to pay half of the program's cost, and cities and towns to pick up the other half. However, starting with the 2010 fiscal year, the state has been underfunding its previously agreed upon percentage of 50 percent. Last year, the state provided no money for police career incentives, and in FY2011, provided just $16,000 for the benefit.
Because of the drastic cuts in state aid for the state-mandated program, a group of Boston police officers who maintained the city should have to pick up the tab for the state's share that went unfunded took the issue to court.
However, in the March 7th Supreme Judicial Court decision, the court ruled that participating municipalities must still pay their half of the cost, but are not required to cover the state’s portion.
Wakefield's Police Department has actually been working without a contract for the last two years, Maio said. This year, contract negotiations were made from 2010 through 2014.
"I think it is important to note that although the police have been out of contract for almost two years now, the have continued to work in a professional manner and in fact received certification from the state," said Maio. "They are a testament to a great Chief and all the citizens of Wakefield should be proud of them."
For officers hired after July 1, 2009, the town would provide a 5 percent increase in base pay for earning an associate's degree, and a 10 percent increase for a bachelor's degree, and a 15 percent increase for a master's degree, according to the negotiations.
The degrees must be in a law enforcement type of subject.
"These percentages also mirror the educational incentive plan that the firefighters have," said Maio.
Through the length of the four-year contract, officers would receive up to a 1.25 percent increase in salary for living costs.
"Our police are facing a lot more issues today that really require an expertise, with cyber crime, identity theft, domestic violation issues, mental health -- they really need to be a well educated police force," Maio said.