Effort to give officers bonuses for training stirs anger

As activists across the country call for cuts to police budgets amid demands for racial justice after George Floyd’s killing, Massachusetts’ Republican governor is pushing a plan to give bonuses up to $5,000 to officers who complete “advanced” training in such areas as de-escalation and bias-free policing.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s proposal has enraged some activists who say officers shouldn’t have to be paid extra to undergo crucial training and that government leaders should instead be diverting money from police budgets into things like community-based services.

“Black folks are dying across the country and at the same time that they’re dying at the hands of police officers, (the governor) thinks: ‘Let me give them more money to teach them how to be sensitive?’” said Monica Gannon-Grant, who helped organize a protest that drew hundreds of people in Boston on Monday. ”You shouldn’t need an extra bonus to not kill somebody,” she said.

Baker defended the proposal on Tuesday, saying “it’s important if you want people to up their game.”

“If you want people to perform at a higher level, if you want people to do a better job in serving the communities they represent, to be leaders with respect to the way they do that, it’s not unusual to create a modest incentive,” Baker told reporters.

The proposal comes amid calls by protesters nationwide to “defund the police” over the death of Floyd and other Black Americans killed by law enforcement. In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh has proposed reallocating $12 million from the police department budget – or roughly 20% of its overtime spending – to efforts by the city Public Health Commission and other agencies to address structural racism.

The bonuses idea is part of a bill that would require police officers in Massachusetts to be certified by the state and allow for the decertification of officers who engage in excessive force. A sweeping criminal justice overhaul passed by state lawmakers in 2018 already required that bias-free policing and de-escalation techniques be included in the in-service training program for officers.

Officers would be eligible for a bonus if they complete “advanced” courses beyond the minimum requirements on topics including foreign language, first aid, narcotics, bias-free policing and de-escalation techniques, under the proposal. The one-time bonuses would range from $1,000 up to $5,000, depending on what and how much training was completed.

Brian Kyes, chief of police in the Boston suburb of Chelsea, said the bonuses could encourage some officers to go above and beyond what’s already required.

“Any incentive in any line of work, I think is good. It provides some individuals that push to perhaps take the extra step in training that would not otherwise do so,” said Kyes, president of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police.

But critics said such training should be mandatory for officers and shouldn’t be a way for police to make extra cash.

“We should not have to pay police to do what they should have been doing all along,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

“A lot of people are going to perceive this as an effort to try to get more money into police departments at a time when were asking for money to be divested from police departments and put into other forms of public health and public safety,” she said.

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Associated Press reporter Steve LeBlanc contributed to this report from Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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