A broken and tired cliche
Yesterday, while checking my Facebook feed before heading out with the family, I came across yet another police recruiting video.
It was like every other typical recruiting video.
“Come join our team, we offer the best training and opportunities, we have the best officers, we’ll give you a take home car, blah, blah, blah..” said the moderator.
As a salty veteran cop who knows the inner workings of the police and the political climate that they operate in, I was about to click out of the video when something unexpected happened.
The moderator, with the slightest tone of bravado, exclaimed that this department was one of THE highest paying in the state.
Did I just hear this?
Did they just commit the cardinal sin of mentioning pay and police in the same breath?
Not only did they mention pay but they threw your typical “strait arrow conservative cop narrative” to the wind.
They were not only talking the talk but they were walking the walk.
How could I be so sure you ask?
Because when I applied with this department, almost 25 years ago, they were the highest paying then also.
Unfortunately, this agency let me slip through their grasp to another (don’t worry, I have since forgiven them). I have no regrets other than wondering, after seeing this recruiting video, how my life would have been different working for this department.
At the time, the agency I chose (let’s be honest, they chose me and I needed a job) was one of the lowest paid in the state.
“We don’t do this job for the money,” is a cliche that has followed me my entire career.
It is one of the dumbest and self-defeating statements that has ever been uttered since Mr. Peele came up with this idea of a police department in the first place.
The ugly truth
Although it would seem boring to most, the most interesting class I took in college was a course in competitive intelligence. The material was geared for the business world but was relative across many disciplines.
The one overriding theme throughout the course was its simplistic approach to problem solving.
Find out as much as you can from your competition, which includes both their strengths and weaknesses, and use this information to exploit and beat them.
So why did this agency mention money when trying to sell itself?
And why would they break from traditional dogma that the job has never been about money?
Because money wins.
And it’s not even close.
This agency knows that and uses this strength to win.
I remember early in my career our agency was losing a lot of officers to the state police. At the time, state police was paying significantly higher and offered other perks that were hard to ignore.
Fast forward 10-15 years and it’s hard to ignore how deplorable and stagnant their pay (state police) has become.
And it’s not just happening in Virginia.
The Ferguson OIS also uncovered an ugly truth about pay disparity. The ridiculous disparity of pay between the “burbs” and agencies like Ferguson were unbelievable.
It’s not a them problem, it’s an us problem
My second or third day on the job, I watched as several wives of police officers that belonged to my department were picketing in front of City Hall demanding better pay for their spouses.
And before you casebook cowboys and self proclaimed legal scholars challenge me on this one, I am clear that not all states allow for their employees to picket or strike.
At the time I didn’t pay much attention to them. I had already been introduced to terms like “it’s a calling” or “it aint about the pay” and my favorite “nobody ever got rich off a cops salary”.
If any of you have grown up poor then you get why these phrases are regarded as blasphemy. It’s the equivalent of saying food isn’t really that important when you’re hungry.
I’m going to catch hell for this one but it almost sounds like what a battered woman would say when her self esteem hits rock bottom.
Essentially, it’s saying I’m not good enough or my value, in dollars, is not as comparable to other professions.
We spend so much effort on suing our departments over illegal overtime practices (which is important) that we fail to recognize the real problem.
That we are grossly underpaid as a profession.
A free market
I have noticed some small changes recently that give me hope that we are heading in the right direction. The first being the recruiting video mentioned in the beginning of this article.
It truly is and demonstrates a free market system at work. The recruiting video doesn’t take any cheap shots and is brutally honest in its sales pitch.
In translation, the video, at its core, says that it knows that you and your city or county do not value your service as much as they do. Accordingly, they and their government leaders will back this statement up with pay.
And for the last 25 years, no other police agency in the state has challenged them.
This should be a wake up call for those departments who undervalue the role of police and de-value their services with low pay and minimal raises.
To all of the city managers and local politicians reading this article…