Police staffing at ‘crisis’ level in Pa., Shapiro says in promoting tax incentives

Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks with cadets at the Lackawanna College Police Academy in Scranton on Thursday. Shapiro used the visit to highlight a tax incentive proposal he hopes will bolster the flagging police officer workforce.

SCRANTON — Gov. Josh Shapiro continued his push to muster public support for his $44.4 billion budget plan, appearing Thursday at the Lackawanna College Police Academy in Scranton to highlight proposed tax incentives toward improving recruitment and retention of police officers.

The governor estimated the commonwealth is short 1,200 municipal police officers. There are about 1,000 state and local police agencies across Pennsylvania.

“That’s simply unacceptable,” Shapiro, the former attorney general, said of the shortage. “We have to attract the best of the best into what I’ve believed for a long time is a noble profession, and that is serving in law enforcement.

“We have a real crisis in this commonwealth and we are addressing it,” he said.

Shapiro proposes a three-year tax incentive of up to $2,500 annually for newly certified police officers. The incentive would also extend to nurses and teachers.

The budget proposal, Shapiro’s first, includes $24.7 million to cover tax credits across the three sectors. He’s also seeking an additional $16.4 million for four new Pennsylvania State Police cadet classes, potentially adding 384 new troopers.

State Sen. Marty Flynn, D-Lackawanna/Luzerne, noted growing vacancies among 911 emergency dispatchers, too. About 20 percent of dispatch positions are open statewide, a rate that rises to 25 percent in northeast Pennsylvania, according to the Shapiro administration.

Shapiro’s budget proposal calls for an increase of the monthly surcharge for 911 service paid by mobile phone users. The surcharge would rise from $1.65 to $2.03 beginning in January 2024, and would raise an additional $54 million. Two other phone-related taxes would be eliminated.

The resulting funds would be used to support the operation and maintenance of local 911 systems as they upgrade equipment and transition to internet-based, next-generation technology. A portion of the money would fund the new 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline in addition to a one-time $5 million expense to support its buildout.

Lackawanna College has police academies in Scranton and Hazleton. The school’s president, Jill Murray, said enrollment is growing.

“While police departments have seen a drop in applications over these past couple of years, this year we have a record number of cadets at our academies,” Murray said.

Budget hearings begin next week in the state House and Senate. The statutory deadline for the budget is June 30.

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