Idaho can do better for police

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Salute to our men and women in blue — Sunday begins National Police Week.

Being a police officer is a tough job. Aside from obvious personal risks, there is that love-hate dichotomy officers face among the public they serve. Some citizens have an extra smile, a heightened respect, and presumed trust when encountering someone in uniform; others, a sense of distrust, perhaps resentment or even fear based on a negative experience or national headlines.

What’s it like to be on the receiving end, to be the person experiencing that career bias good and bad, those high expectations and responsibilities, the personal risks and associated stress, day after day, year after year? Being a cop is complicated.

But there are perks, too. Early retirement, great benefits, and a higher mean salary ($61,600) compared to other careers ($49,630) — plus the personal fulfilment in serving a vital function in society — make law enforcement attractive work.

Yet one experience does not fit all; state conditions vary. Wallethub’s latest analysis of 20 indicators does not give Idaho good marks — we rank a poor 42 out of 51 among “2017’s Best and Worst States to be a Police Officer.” The best is North Dakota; the worst is Arkansas.

Despite ranking among the 10 “worst” states overall, there is good news. Idaho’s officers fare better than counterparts in some areas. Idaho has very low rates of violent and property crimes (the fifth best state in both). Idaho police officers also do an excellent job solving homicides (11th out of 51). In housing affordability, Idaho ranks above average at 19 of 51.

Where Idaho falters most prominently is in its legal framework, and compensation packages, especially compared to neighboring Washington, which ranks 13 overall. Idaho patrol officers’ median annual wage is $54,732; in Washington, it’s $71,923. The gap for Idaho detectives is a bit narrower — $69,085, compared to Washington’s $76,284. And, yes, those figures are adjusted for cost of living.

Economic and budget realities, including Idaho’s lower tax base, make pay difficult to address. Nevertheless, it’s an important reality sheriffs and police chiefs struggle with continually as they lose experienced officers.

One area we have more power to improve is legislation. Other states have certain laws we either lack, or lack in sophistication. Wallethub surveyed those defining or regulating officers’ use of force (none in Idaho or Washington), police misconduct confidentiality (Idaho ranks 28, Washington 1), and body cameras (Idaho 27, Washington 7) — which, taken together certain transparencies, can protect police departments with greater stability, clarity, and relationships.

Few relationships are more important to a healthy society than that between law enforcement and citizens. To make it successful requires mutual trust, mutual caretaking, and — like any relationship — patience as it evolves.

See the full report at Wallethub.com: https://wallethub.com/edu/best-states-to-be-a-cop/34669/

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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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