Rep. Mirra Says His Tuition Reimbursement Bill Could Help Prop Up Declining Police Ranks

State Rep. Lenny Mirra (Courtesy photograph)

Legislators are weighing proposals to allow state government to pick up the student loan payments of anyone serving in law enforcement, part of an effort to recruit more young people into the field.

“We are facing a shortage of law enforcement officers in this 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,” Rep. Lenny Mirra said Tuesday morning. “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 testified before the Public Service Committee on bills offering tuition reimbursement for anyone pursuing a criminal justice degree in Massachusetts and his student loan repayment bill, which he described as a “more effective and more timely way to go.”

Under his bill, the state would cover loan payments for any individual who attains a criminal justice degree or law enforcement certificate from a Massachusetts state college, university or community college, and is currently working in Massachusetts for a law enforcement agency, municipal police department or the State Police.

The Georgetown Republican did not attach a cost estimate to his proposal, but said officers who receive a college education are often more effective at their jobs, have better reading and writing skills, experience fewer disciplinary problems and are less likely to use deadly force on the job.

“When you add all of that together this could actually save the commonwealth a little bit of money in the long run,” Mirra said.

Committee co-chair Rep. Kenneth Gordon is also leading a commission that’s been exploring the state civil service law, police hiring and ways to diversify the law enforcement ranks.

“I think your idea is a good one and we can work together to try to get to that goal,” Gordon told Mirra.

Others in law enforcement said residency requirements and an outdated civil service system create obstacles to diversifying law enforcement.

Using community colleges to help attract candidates for civil service jobs is under consideration, Gordon said, as well as greater outreach into communities, a strategy that he said could lead to more diversity.

Rep. Tim Whelan, a former correction officer and former State Police officer, said interest in law enforcement is reflected in the decline in people who take the civil service exam. Typically, it’s 35,000 a year, he said, but in 2021 it was about 6,000.

Whelan said the committee over the years has often heard from people seeking tuition benefits to boost one field or another but said others have not been able to point to what he called “just a complete bottoming out of people who are interested in a career in law enforcement.”

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