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Which States Are Best for Law Enforcement Careers?

A report analyzes which states are the best for police careers based upon opportunity, training requirements and protections from job hazards. But a trouble-plagued year may spark deeper changes for the future.

A row of police officers sitting in chairs wearing white gloves as part of their graduation ceremony.
Members of Springfield Police Academy class 0321 wear white gloves during their graduation ceremony at Symphony Hall in Springfield, April 2, 2021.
Don Treeger / The Republican
Since its beginning, America’s law enforcement has been subject to harsh public scrutiny. But the past year has put extra focus on agencies for their enforcement of COVID-19 restrictions and several high-profile incidents of police brutality, including the killing of George Floyd. The increased criticism has encouraged many Americans to call for reform and to “Defund the Police,” while others believe that police departments are more important than ever.

Police officers are in a dangerous profession with greater risks and stresses than most other jobs. Police departments must offer appealing benefits and compensation packages that offset the challenges to recruit and maintain officers. These compensation packages vary from state to state, according to a new report by WalletHub, which analyzed the 50 states and the District of Columbia to determine which were the best and worst for pursuing a career in law enforcement.

Cities were scored on three main dimensions: opportunity and competition, law enforcement training requirements and job hazards and protections, which were then broken down into 30 metrics, such as officers per capita, average starting salary, training hours required, education requirements, misconduct confidentiality, body camera legislation, lethal force allowance, deaths per 1,000 officers, police killings per capita, crime rate, road safety and more. Each of the 30 metrics were assigned a value based upon a 100-point system to distribute scores evenly among the three main dimensions. A score of 100 points represents the most favorable conditions for police officers.

The analysis found that California was the overall best state to be a cop, with a total of 63.76 points, while Hawaii, with only 28.61 points, was the worst.

Overall, Democratic states ranked more positively than Republican ones. Nine of the 10 best states to pursue a law enforcement career voted for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, while eight of the 10 worst states voted for Donald Trump. Democratic states also ranked higher in categories such as median income for law enforcement officers, state and local police protection expenses per capita and most law enforcement officers per capita. However, Ohio, Arkansas and Iowa were ranked the third through fifth best states for median income growth for law enforcement officers, only coming in behind Vermont and Maryland, and the five states with the highest percentage of homicide cases solved were all Republican.

Some experts, like LaNina N. Cooke of Farmingdale State College, do not think that policing will disappear despite the movement to defund the police. “I do, however, hope that it will positively evolve,” Cooke says. “Long-term, I see agencies investing in more training, especially about working with and understanding Black communities and populations that include individuals with housing, disability, and mental health concerns.”

Robert Peetz, a retired professor from Midland College, agrees that policing will continue to adapt and change, but he believes that the community also must maintain an openness toward police reform.

“Community policing is a two-way street: the police have to be sensitive to the needs of the community, the community has to do its part by becoming law-abiding and understanding that the police can only do so much,” he says.

But many of the problems that police departments face are deep-rooted and will require work that will extend years into the future. “This is the overall challenge that will not be solved in a matter of 12 months, especially when there is not a consensus of vested interest,” says Cooke.
Zoe is the digital editor for Governing.
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