Earnings and Benefits for Police Officers
Most candidates for law enforcement jobs are idealists. Studies over the past few decades that have asked those attending a police academy why they are becoming police officers always discover that the primary reason is to help others. Some candidates are looking for job satisfaction. Others are looking for a job that provides adventure, one in which they will be outdoors, and can expect the opportunity to make independent judgments (termed exercising discretion) in policing. Since most know they will need to work for most of their adult lives, the substantial salary and fringe benefits of a police career are generally also mentioned among the top four or five reasons.
Before taking a job in any field, you will need to decide on your own salary requirements. Do you live in a big city and plan to stay there? Are you willing to relocate to a less expensive suburb or rural area? Do you have a family to support? Are you paying off student loans? No matter how much you enjoy your work, your job will need to meet your salary requirements in order for you to stay with it.
Just the Facts
Specific information for some of the largest agencies in the country follows. Remember that salaries do not include additional money that can be earned for working overtime, on hazardous duty, or on less desirable shifts (taking the night shift can earn bonus pay). Many departments also add to your base pay after you have completed police academy training or finished a probationary period (usually your first year on the job). It is also possible to earn more each year for education: Having a college degree (or even some college credit) or getting advanced certification relating to your law enforcement work can mean extra income next year, depending on where you work.
- Baltimore Police Department
- Average starting salary: $41,058 to $46,527
- Benefits include: health insurance; paid vacation, holidays, court time, and overtime; investment plans; homeowner plans; free equipment; retirement after 20 years
- Boston Police Department
- Average base salary: $46,000
- Benefits include: paid vacation, holiday, and sick leave; full retirement plan; educational incentives.
- Chicago Police Department
- Average starting salary: $43,104
- Benefits include: health insurance; paid vacation, holiday, and sick leave; tuition reimbursement, including advanced degrees; retirement plan; home purchase assistance; annual uniform allowance.
- Dallas Police Department
- Average starting salary: $41,690 to $42,890
- Benefits include: health insurance; paid vacation, holiday, and sick leave; life insurance; free equipment.
- Los Angeles Police Department
- Average starting salary: $56,522 to $61,095
- Benefits include: health insurance; paid vacation, holiday, and sick leave; pension plan; deferred compensation; compressed work schedule.
- Miami-Dade Police Department
- Average starting salary: $40,932 to $48,827
- Benefits include: health insurance; life insurance; paid vacation; tuition reimbursement; pension plan.
- New York City Police Department
- Average starting salary: $40,361 to $43,062
- Benefits include: health insurance; paid vacation and sick days; educational incentives; annuity fund; Deferred Compensation Plan, 401K, and IRA; optional retirement for onehalf pay after 20 years of service.
- Philadelphia Police Department
- Average starting salary: $39,251 to $41,974
- Benefits include: health insurance; paid sick leave, accumulated holiday and vacation time; pension plan, including deferred compensation.
- San Francisco Police Department
- Average starting salary: $75,868 to $101,556
- Benefits include: health insurance; paid vacation and sick leave; retirement eligibility at age 50, with a maximum of 90% benefit based on years of service.
- Washington, D.C. Police Department
- Average starting salary: $48,715
- Benefits include: health insurance; life insurance; paid holidays and additional duty; tuition reimbursement; homeowner plans; free equipment; retirement after 25 years of service; savings plans, including deferred compensation; free fitness centers.
The material benefits of a police career can be substantial. If you work for a municipal police department or state police department, your salaries will generally be among the highest in the city or state civil service system. It is not unusual to leave the academy after six or nine months earning close to $50,000 annually. An online study based on mean salaries at the beginning of 2007 found that the 10 states with the highest salaries for law enforcement personnel were New Jersey, California, Illinois, Washington, Nevada, Alaska, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Oregon. Remember, though, that each police agency sets its own salary scale. Salaries are negotiated locally and different towns have different abilities to pay higher wages. Candidates are often surprised to learn that the salaries in the largest police departments are not the highest. Salaries are negotiated on a community's ability to pay, not on the number of police officers or the number of calls for service to which they respond. You might be very surprised to learn that a suburban community's officers make more than those in the large city nearby, and that a special jurisdiction police officer might make more than either of them. Remember also that salaries are sometimes closely related to local cost of living levels. A large paycheck may not go as far in a very expensive area as a smaller paycheck in a state where housing costs are lower.
Agencies covered by collective bargaining agreements generally provide officers with an annual pay raise during the life of a contract, usually three years. Sometime prior to the end of the contract period, negotiations with management will begin for a new contract; rarely will it be signed if no pay raise is included.
Despite a controversial history of unions in policing, today more than 40% of all police departments have a union or similar group that negotiates their labor agreements with either the police department or a unit of government set up specifically for this purpose, often called a law department, department of collective bargaining, or personnel department. The larger the department, the more likely it is to be unionized. In 2006, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 80% of agencies that served a population over 1,000,000 had collective bargaining agreements, while only 13% of those serving populations under 2,500 had such agreements. Sheriffs' offices are less likely to be unionized, but here, too, size is a factor. State police agencies also operate under collective bargaining agreements. Since 2007, only two states, Virginia and North Carolina, forbid first responders, including police and firefighters, from joining unions.
Police officers also have substantial opportunities to earn overtime pay, generally at times their hourly wage. Sometimes, if the overtime falls on a holiday or other special conditions are met, overtime might be paid at twice your hourly pay rate. The availability of overtime is one reason you will often see police recruitment ads that feature comments such as "earn up to" a certain salary a year rather than a specific dollar amount. This figure often represents the average of the available overtime that entry-level officers can expect to earn. It may also represent the addition of contractually agreed-to longevity increases that are added to your salary as you pass certain milestones such as completing the academy; or your probationary period (generally between one and two years); or reaching an anniversary date at three, four, or five years of service.
In addition to the substantial monies you will be able to earn directly from your agency, many departments have agreements that permit you to work another job (called moonlighting) during your off-duty hours. Although in many states police officers are not permitted to work where liquor is sold, in other areas nightclubs, concert venues, and sporting arenas and stadiums may hire off-duty police officers directly or may request they work through prearrangements with either the department or the union. While you are under no obligation to moonlight if you are not interested in additional income, the way many departments have organized this extra work makes it exceptionally easy to obtain for those who are looking for additional income.