Police Pay: The Ugly Truth and Why It Must Change

Police Pay

A broken and tired cliché

Yesterday, while checking my Facebook feed before heading out with the family, I came across yet another police recruiting video.

It was like every other typical recruiting video.

“Come join our team, we offer the best training and opportunities, we have the best officers, we’ll give you a take home car, blah, blah, blah..” said the moderator.

As a veteran cop who knows the inner workings of the police and the political climate in which they operate in, I was about to click out of the video when something unexpected happened.

The moderator, with the slightest tone of bravado, exclaimed that this department was one of THE highest paying in the state.

Did I just hear this?

Did they just go there?

Mentioning pay and police in the same breath?

Not only did they mention pay but they threw your typical “strait arrow conservative cop narrative” to the wind.

They were not only talking the talk but they were walking the walk.

How could I be so sure you ask?

Because when I applied with this department, almost 25 years ago, they were the highest paying then also.

Unfortunately, this agency let me slip through their grasp to another (don’t worry, I have since forgiven them).

I have no regrets other than wondering, after seeing this recruiting video, how my life would have been different working for this department.

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At the time, the agency I chose (let’s be honest, they chose me and I needed a job) was one of the lowest paid in the state.

“We don’t do this job for the money,” is a cliché that has followed me my entire career.

It is one of the dumbest and most self-defeating statements that has ever been uttered since the most revered Sir Robert Peel came up with this idea of a policing in the first place.

The ugly truth

Although it would seem boring to most, the most interesting class I took in college was a course in competitive intelligence. The material was geared for the business world but was relative across many disciplines.

The one overriding theme throughout the class was its simplistic approach to problem solving.

Find out as much as you can from your competition, which includes both their strengths and weaknesses, and use this information to exploit and beat them.

So why did this agency mention money when trying to sell itself?

And why would they break from traditional dogma that the job has never been about money?

Because money wins.

Every,

Single,

Time.

And it’s not even close.

This agency knows that and uses this strength to win.

And I’m sure they have factored in all of the holier than thou, self-proclaimed police sages who will drop the “no one ever said you would become a millionaire doing this job” to any fool who will listen.

I remember early in my career our agency was losing a lot of officers to the state police. At the time, state police was paying significantly higher and offered other perks that were hard to ignore.

Fast forward 10-15 years and it’s hard to ignore how deplorable and stagnant their pay (state police) has become.

And it’s not just happening in Virginia.

The justified Ferguson OIS also uncovered an ugly truth about police pay disparity.

Several news articles were written in the months following the event. These articles showed the ridiculous disparity of police pay between the surrounding “burbs” compared with agencies like Ferguson.

The gap was almost unbelievable.

It’s not a them problem, it’s an us problem

My second or third day on the job, I watched as several wives of police officers that belonged to my department were picketing in front of City Hall demanding better pay for their spouses.

And before you casebook cowboys and legal scholars challenge me on this one, I am clear that not all states allow for their employees to picket or strike.

At the time I didn’t pay much attention to them. I had already been introduced to terms like “it’s a calling” or “it aint about the pay” and my favorite “nobody ever got rich off a cops salary”.

If any of you have grown up poor then you get why these phrases are regarded as blasphemy. It’s the equivalent of saying food isn’t really that important when you’re hungry.

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I may catch hell for this one but it almost sounds like what a battered woman would say when her self-esteem hits rock bottom.

Essentially, it’s saying I’m not good enough or my value, in dollars, is not as comparable to other professions.

It amazes me that we carry such a brave and self-confident demeanor when we are in uniform but turn into pimply faced teenage boys or girls when it comes to our pay.

We spend so much effort on suing our departments over illegal overtime practices (which is important) that we fail to recognize the real problem.

That we are grossly underpaid as a profession. (You freaks up north can keep scrolling)

A free market 

I have noticed some small changes recently that give me hope that we are heading in the right direction. The first being the recruiting video mentioned in the beginning of this article.

It truly is and demonstrates a free market system at work. The recruiting video doesn’t take any cheap shots and is brutally honest in its sales pitch.

In translation, the video, at its core, says that it knows that you and your city or county do not value your service as much as they do. Accordingly, they and their government leaders will back this statement up with pay.

And for the last 25 years, no other police agency in the state has challenged them.

This should be a wake up call for those departments who undervalue the role of police and de-value their services with low pay and minimal raises.

To all of the city managers, local politicians and citizens who aren’t willing to pay your officers a decent wage…

Good luck. And remember, the old saying is still true..

You get what you pay for.


You can find other ORIGINAL articles like this one and more at The Salty Sarge Facebook Page.

3 Comments

  1. The reason our pay not going to change, and we’re not going to work to change it, is politics. Over my career, I have seen those on the Left hate us, hate the job we do, obstruct us, criticize us endlessly, but you know, their reps always been willing to negotiate with us for reasonable wages and benefits. On the other hand, those on the Right have always loved us, supported our mission, waved the flag for us… except when it comes time to pay us. Then, we’re feeders at the public trough, with Cadillac benefits we didn’t earn, and should do our jobs for peanuts out of a sense of duty. Guess which way I vote.
    I feel for my brothers and sisters who work in states south of the Mason-Dixon, where so many states have effectively banned public employee (police and fire) unions, through anti-labor legislation. Police unions are the undeniable reason the northern states cops are so much better paid, have better benefits and retirement. Unfortunately, many of our ranks have been badly misled into believing unions do not help, are no longer necessary in modern times, or that union leaders are crooks who steal from the membership. To those officers I say, keep telling yourselves, “I don’t do this job for the money”.

  2. Good comment Curt – and Salty Sarge (in case you really meant “you freaks up north”) – the strength is in collective bargaining and binding third-party arbitration.

    Follow the base salary for a (fairly typical) first class constable and watch premiums pile on:

    (Agency name removed) police officer pay

    $71,400: Base salary for first class constable 2006

    $100,420: Base salary for first class constable 2019

    Retention Pay

    $109,458: Top pay for a first class constable as of 2019 factoring in the “3, 6, or 9” per cent increase paid annually (depending on years of service = +3%, +6%, or +9%)

    Investigative Premium

    $117,491: Top pay for a first class constable as of 2019 including retention pay of a 9 per cent and an “investigative premium” of 2, 4 or 8 per cent, depending on the department

    Total increase between 2006 and 2019:

    41%: The pay increase established in XXX police’s new contract for the lowest base pay for a first class constable.

    This does not include overtime and off duty pay, nor extensive benefits.

    This makes for a highly competitive market for the best recruits and little retention problems, other than in some cities where policing is more challenging, except you can switch departments to a much lower pace and still get about the same pay – because it is so competitive and there is widespread dependence on arbitration to settle contracts.

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