Op-Ed: Like School Funding, New Jersey Police Pay is Rife with Inequities

Why do Saddle River residents pay more for law-enforcement salaries than Camden residents?

Is it because of Saddle River’s high crime rates?

Of course not.

Is it primarily because of Saddle River’s police officers’ superior training, sensitivity, responsiveness, compassion, safety, education and/or skill?

Certainly, Saddle River residents would like to assume so.

However, according to Pat Colligan, the president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, “basically it’s based on [a Saddle River resident’s] ability to pay” more; obviously, via a tax. Perhaps this is a bad quote? Perhaps there’s more to it; such as training, education or other differences. However, in either event, this appears to be an issue that neither Democrats nor Republicans are loudly debating across New Jersey’s municipalities.

It’s interesting to intellectually compare this issue to the fundamental arguments underlying Republicans’ complaints about school-funding disparities.

Obviously, the metaphor is flawed. It’s not like taxpayers from the suburbs would be paying less for police salaries if taxpayers in poorer and more dangerous communities could or would pay more. However, those in wealthier communities are paying more than those in poorer and more dangerous communities for police salaries, and it isn’t clear that this higher price tag is closely tied to the demands of the job.

Per the PBA president’s quote, these issues aren’t closely tied together.

Relative to Democrats, Republicans are known as the law and order party, and its candidates are routinely endorsed by PBA associations. However, if there will be a debate about police salaries based upon its tax burden, then logic suggests that debate should begin in the Republican Party.

It’s easy to envision such a debate between the New Jersey Republican party’s establishment and its libertarian-minded colleagues representing voters who view taxation as theft and are comfortable with arming and protecting themselves. However, bearing in mind nonviolent life or death situations, which can’t be solved with a gun (e.g., when your child needs CPR), perhaps the fairest way to fund our law-enforcement officers’ salaries, for such priceless services, is indeed based on what each of us can afford to pay.