Mass. lawmakers propose free college for LE to boost new recruits

"Very few young people are going into [policing], and so we need to do something about that really quickly," said state Rep. Lenny Mirra


By Amy Sokolow
Boston Herald

BOSTON — As new potential recruits to the police force plummet, some state lawmakers have proposed a creative workaround to both boost recruits and diversify the police: free tuition.

"We are facing a shortage of law enforcement officers in the state, something that a lot of my police chiefs are saying could evolve into a public safety crisis in the near future if we don't do something about this," said state Rep. Lenny Mirra, R- Georgetown. "A lot of people are leaving that field, very few young people are going into it, and so we need to really do something about that really quickly."

Mirra's bill is simple and its text is short. It would direct the commonwealth to provide "full tuition reimbursement" for students pursuing "a degree in criminal justice or a certificate in law enforcement at any college or university in the Commonwealth."

Another bill Mirra proposed would direct the state to cover loan payments for anyone who earns a criminal justice degree or law enforcement certificate at a state college, university or community college in Massachusetts, and is currently working at a Massachusetts law enforcement agency, municipal police department or the State Police. Mirra thought this route might be the more efficient way.

Mirra cited two factors contributing to the low numbers of officers: they're aging out of the force, but even more importantly, "young people just not going out into the field like they used to," he said, citing the "social aspect" as a primary reason, likely referring to the anti-policing movements that have gained momentum in the U.S. in recent years.

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Rep. Timothy Whelan, R- Brewster, shared statistics illustrating the scope of the recruitment problem. In a typical year, he said, about 35,000 people sit for the civil service exam. In 2021, that number hovered under 6,000. "It's just a complete bottoming out of people who are interested in a career in law enforcement," Whelan, a former police sergeant, said.

Mirra also suggested that community colleges, with their focus on educating an employable workforce, "could steer some people in this direction," he said. He also mentioned that these schools tend to have a more diverse population than average and may help police departments diversify their forces.

Mirra added that those police officers who have a college degree often perform their duties better, possessing better reading and writing skills, receiving fewer disciplinary infractions, and becoming less likely to use deadly force while on the job.

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