What's the right salary for a job in which men and women could be forced to risk their lives every day they put on a uniform? Is it $90,000? Should it be $125,000? Maybe $150,000? Are we getting warmer?
Public safety and the recruitment and retention of San Jose police officers dominated discussions during the campaign season. Mayor-elect Sam Liccardo has said increasing officer salaries is one of his top priorities. A plan he and Mayor Chuck Reed proposed last year suggests 200 officers can be hired in the next four years.
"The cost of that proposal could reach $50 million," Liccardo wrote on his campaign website. "Within the proposal, Mayor Reed and I identified about $35 million in funding sources for the new hires. We will need to find additional savings or revenues over the next four years to cover the rest."
Despite a reported drop in violent crimes in San Jose, there is no doubt that San Jose is approaching a potential staffing crisis. Earlier this week, the Mercury News reported that SJPD could soon have its lowest number of officers on the job since 1985. Despite the decrease in the ranks, Chief Larry Esquivel wrote an op-ed in October saying violent crimes are down, but with a cost. Other calls for service are being neglected and officers are being overworked.
So, what exactly is the right amount of money to keep these officers in San Jose? And what;s being done to bring new officers to the force? San Jose Inside spoke with Jennifer Schembri, deputy director of employee relations, to get a handle on some raw numbers. Here is some background information she provided:
20092011, the city implemented a 10-percent wage cut across the board for all employees, including police. Officer pay is being restored in increments, with a final 3.3 percent raise occurring in July 2015. That final increase should be "about the same as the 10 percent" that was lost, Schembri said.
- The average "top-step" salary for a San Jose police officer—this does not include sergeants and lieutenants—is $104,457 in annual base salary, which is higher than San Jose's average household income. The city makes an average medical benefits contribution of $14,265 for these officers. And for these "Tier 1" officers, who were employed by the city before Measure B went into effect, the city makes an average annual retirement contribution of 83.14 percent of their base pay—so about $86,854. These officers also contribute 21.26 percent of their annual salary, before taxes, to their pension plan.
- A new police officer typically comes in at "Step 1," which offers an average annual base salary of $78,000. The city continues to make an average medical benefits contribution of $14,265 to these officers. For these "Tier 2" officers, who were NOT employed by the city before Measure B went into effect, the city makes an average annual retirement contribution of 21.8 percent of their base pay—so about $17,004. These officers also contribute 20.8 percent of their annual salary, before taxes, to their pension plan. An officer generally moves up a step—there are seven total—each year until they reach "top step."
- Officers can increase their pay by working on special units, overtime and receiving Peace Officers Standards Training (POST) certification. An intermediate POST certification adds 5 percent to an officer's base salary, and advanced certification bumps that up to a 7.5 percent increase. "The majority of [officers] get their 7.5,” Schembri said.
- It takes 10 years for an officers benefits to become vested.
- Admittedly, this doesn't take into account the contentious issue of disability after Measure B was passed.
Looking at those numbers, it's pretty obvious that police pension payouts for "Tier 1" officers were unsustainable. Last spring, the city was claiming it had a $2.9 billion unfunded liability for pension and retiree healthcare costs. Many officers would be making more money in retirement—pension pay tops out at 90 percent after
25 30 years with the department—than they were working the beat.
But nearly everyone seems to agree that the newly formed salary and benefit structure is not competitive with neighboring law enforcement agencies.
Here's where you tell us how much you think the average San Jose police officer should be paid. It's not supposed to be an easy question.