OUR OPINION: Indiana’s Conservation Officers deserve a 6% pay raise and wage parity with the Indiana State Police.
Indiana’s men and women in green are angry and I can’t blame them. They are angry because a major injustice is about to take place in the ornate halls of our state capital and members of the Indiana House of Representatives are to blame.
Hidden away in House Bill 1001, Indiana’s Biennial Budget, is a provision that gives Indiana State Police (ISP) troopers a six-percent raise while only giving Indiana Conservation Officers (and also State Excise Police) a three percent raise. The bill also breaks the wage parity among the police agencies.
In essence, the Indiana House is saying that ISP troopers are twice as valuable as Indiana Conservation Officers (ICOs).
That might not be the intent of the bill but it is exactly the message that every conservation officer across the state has heard loud and clear from the Representatives. I confidently make such a sweeping statement because several ICOs have told me directly, pointedly, and judging by the angry stares, cynical eye-rolls and frowns of several others who don’t feel as comfortable offering their opinion out loud, they are united in their disdain.
The rationale behind this ill-advised budget move is that ISP is having trouble finding recruits and keeping troopers in the ranks because of poor pay. The Indiana State Police is among the lowest paid in the nation and furthermore, after attending the police academy and working a few years on the road, an ISP trooper could make a lateral transfer to a local or county police department in the same area and earn $10- or $20,000 more for doing much the same job.
That simple economic reality, along with the current round of cop-bashing that is fashionable in certain circles, causes problems for ISP in trying to attract and keep good recruits.
However, fixing the problem on the backs of ICOs is folly at best and contemptible at worse. In fact, the bill will probably have the opposite effect of causing defections among the ranks of ICOs, putting the Department of Natural Resources in an ironic parity with ISP in terms of keeping their best people. Furthermore, I know there were only 76 applicants for the last ICO recruit class so the whole notion of the DNR being flush with potential talent isn’t necessarily valid.
The basic flaw of HB1001 stems from the fact it overlooks “the job” is the same for every state officer, regardless of uniform color or situation. Which do you consider more dangerous: arresting a drunk alongside a major highway or confronting armed trespassers while alone in the middle of the night? I’ve personally known officers who were shot in these situations, one wearing blue and one in green.
While no amount of money is really worth the risk, it would seem only fair that the paychecks for taking that risk should at least be the same when they are signed by the same person, Governor Eric Holcomb.
Every ICO I talked to prefaced their statement with, “It’s not about the money…” Having worked alongside many, many ICOs during my 27-year career as a street cop, I know they are speaking from the heart. It’s not about that relatively-insignificant three-percent but about feeling valued and respected by legislators for a job that is often out of sight and now apparently out-of-mind.
Fortunately, we learned late last evening that Conservation Officers might have someone in their corner. Senate Majority Floor Leader Brandt Hershman told me, “I think the CO’s raise a good point and I intend to raise it during Senate Budget hearings.” Brandt is an old friend, a strong supporter of law enforcement and someone who has proven to be a straight-shooter when it comes to political controversy. I have high hopes that he can help fix this perhaps-well-intended but ultimately bad bill.
HB1001 hasn’t passed its final reading in the House and still needs to pass through the senate before becoming law. That means that concerned citizens who support the work of our Conservation Officers should immediately contact their state legislators and point out that ISP troopers certainly need a pay raise but Indiana’s ICOs are just as deserving.
We hope our State Representatives made this move simply without consideration of the consequences rather than as a deliberate slap in the face of Indiana’s Conservation Officers. Regardless, it is important for citizens to let our legislators know a mistake is being made before it is too late to correct.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Watch a video of the Indiana House Ways and Means Committee:
At the 57:23 mark in the video, the following exchange takes place during a committee hearing on HB1001 between Representative Edward Delaney and Committee Chairman Rep. Timothy Brown:
Delaney- “Between the state police and DNR, I couldn’t quite understand your slide. I think we had a linkage between DNR employees and state police employees in terms of their compensation schedules. Have we broken that linkage? I’m on the second page of the LSA summary of this…
Brown- “Yes we are.”
Delaney- “And in what way are we breaking the linkage?”
Brown- “State Police are getting a 6%, DNR and ATC are getting a 3%. I think what we heard in direct testimony under DNR is that in their enforcement division they had plenty of applicants, they didn’t have people leaving, they didn’t have the turnover costs, they didn’t have the recruitment costs that the state police had.”
Delaney- “And so you’re going to treat them differently for that? I understand that.”