A bill aimed at addressing a shortage of law enforcement officers has advanced through a House committee.
House Bill 1703 is sponsored by Representative Lane Roberts (R-Joplin), who was a chief of police in multiple communities including Joplin and is a past director of the Department of Public Safety. He said before a person can apply for employment as a law enforcement officer in Missouri they must first have their license.
“What that means is the officer is going to invest somewhere around $6,000 and, depending on whether they attend the day academy or night academy, four to six months of their lives with no guarantee of a job. The result, in some cases, is they merely have a $6,000 debt,” said Roberts.
Roberts’ bill would create the “Peace Officer Basic Training Tuition Reimbursement Program.” This would pay back individuals for that training over a period of four years if they find a law enforcement job and retain it for four years.
Roberts told the Committee on Crime Prevention his bill aims to make the potential cost of training less of a barrier, particular for two groups of people he hopes to incent toward pursuing law enforcement careers.
“I’m interested in attracting some of those people who are 27, 28, 29 years old, who have a little life experience, have some idea of what they’re getting into. Unfortunately many of those people will have mortgages, they’ll be married, have children, and the cost of burdening their family with a $6,000 debt with no guarantee of getting a job certainly would give them pause before they would apply,” said Roberts.
“Many of the minority categories – people that we have worked very hard to attract – find that $6,000 up-front fee to be an absolute barrier, not just an inhibitor. This would give them the opportunity to have a law enforcement career.”
HB 1703 would also require that law enforcement instructors and their curriculum be approved by the Department of Public Safety. This stemmed from an amendment offered by Representative Kevin Windham (D-Hillsdale) to last year’s version of the legislation. Windham said it was in answer to something that happened in St. Louis County.
“We had a police trainer that used some racially-charged language, and as our law stands right now that person would be able to go to any other law enforcement training facility throughout the state. The amendment to Representative Roberts’ bill will make it where a person that participates in behavior that is less than what we would expect, they won’t be able to bounce around from law enforcement training facility to law enforcement training facility.”
The bill carries a potential cost to the state of more than $5.5-million.
“While I don’t pretend that that’s not a substantial amount of money I would submit to you that at a time when we are having trouble recruiting officers, we’re having trouble finding minority officers, we’re having trouble retaining officers, that (nearly) $6-million is a fairly insignificant amount to be able to correct that in a significant way.”
Last year’s version the legislation was approved by the House 152-1 but it stalled in the Senate. HB 1703 has been approved by the Crime Prevention committee and needs one more committee’s action before going to the full House.