Days before Christmas, Tate Reeves announces $1,000 hazard pay for state police officers

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  • Tate Reeves
    65th governor of Mississippi
  • Craig James
    Craig James
    American football sportscaster
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, right, expresses his gratitude for law enforcement during a press conference at the Walter Sillers State Office Building in Jackson, Miss., Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. Reeves held the press conference to recognize the sacrifices of state law enforcement officers during COVID-19.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, right, expresses his gratitude for law enforcement during a press conference at the Walter Sillers State Office Building in Jackson, Miss., Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. Reeves held the press conference to recognize the sacrifices of state law enforcement officers during COVID-19.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves announced Monday he is authorizing a one-time $1,000 bonus to all sworn law enforcement officers employed by state agencies.

The payments are set to hit officers' bank accounts before 2022 and are classified as COVID-19 hazard pay under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed in 2020, Reeves said.

"This one time payment at Christmas time will be a small recognition of the service of those who put their safety on the line every single day," he said.

There are about 1,750 sworn, state-employed law enforcement officers, Reeves said. The payments are coming from $50 million in CARES Act funds the legislature appropriated to the governor's office.

The officers work for a variety of agencies, but most are employed by the Mississippi Department of Public Safety.

"Mississippi's law enforcement officers have been through a lot over the last couple of years, but despite it all they have endured," Reeves said.

Only officers employed by the state prior to Nov. 30 are eligible for the payment.

Hazard pay meant to ease Christmas costs

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Sean Tindell said the holiday bonus will help alleviate financial concerns, especially for those who work second jobs.

Mississippi Highway Patrol Trooper Craig James said it is humbling that the governor thought about law enforcement officers and the pay can offset some holiday season costs.

“It will help out tremendously,” said James, who has children. “My wife has been picking up extra shifts. Maybe she can knock that back a little bit with this money.”

Reeves did not announce bonuses for other state employees and said law enforcement officers were especially deserving because they didn't have remote work options.

Reeves has previously championed his decision to keep Mississippi schools open during most of the pandemic, requiring teachers to hold in-person classes.

Already overtaxed because of a nursing shortage driven primarily by poor wages, hospitals became so inundated with COVID-19 patients in August the state spent more than $100 million in federal funds to contract nurses from out of state.

Lawmakers from both parties have advocated for using American Rescue Plan Act funds to give hazard pay to nurses in the state.

The state legislature sets the salaries for sworn officers in the Mississippi Highway Patrol and the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, and an entry level officer is paid $38,000 annually.

For comparison, the average first-year teacher in Mississippi makes $36,500, according to the Southern Regional Education Board.

Reeves plays politics with bonuses

Reeves cast the decision to award hazard pay to law enforcement officers in a political light, connecting it to anti-police rhetoric stemming from the 2020 uprisings across the country in response to police killings of Black people.

"Broad sweeping characterizations about who they are and what they stand for simply based on their line of work," Reeves said. "Some have called policing inherently and intentionally racist."

Reeves praised officers' professionalism in the face of what he called "dangerous rhetoric" from Democratic politicians and the liberal media.

“There were calls to defund the police, to dismantle them,” he said.

All three levels of Mississippi government are controlled by Republicans, and have been since 2012.

Asked how COVID-19 has impacted working conditions for highway patrolmen, James said not much has changed.

“You know, we just buckle down and do the job no matter what,” he said. “Sometimes that entails wearing masks, in and out of that, and just just doing the job as always.”

Tindell estimated 50 first responders, including firefighters and sheriff’s deputies, have died from COVID-19 during the pandemic.

Reeves said he hopes cities and counties will follow his lead and provide hazard pay to their law enforcement employees.

Last month, the Hinds County Board of Supervisors approved premium pay for its staff, which includes sheriff's deputies and corrections officers, using federal COVID-19 relief funds.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Tate Reeves using COVID-19 money to give police officers $1,000 bonus

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