How Much are Richmond Police Being Paid?

How Much are Richmond Police Being Paid?

By Mike Parker and Shiva Mishek*

Richmond police officers are better-compensated than officers in surrounding communities. Oakland comes close, with officers being compensated an average of $279,869.87 annually to Richmond’s $283,866.50. 

The claim that police officers are leaving Richmond because they are not being paid enough does not fit the data. According to data for the latest year available (2020), the average total pay plus benefits for RPD staff is higher than in comparable surrounding communities. While the base pay for police officers in all of these communities starts out roughly the same, overtime plus extras quickly boost the average. 

Comparisons are hard, since contracts expire at different times. Richmond’s higher average can also be the reflection of a police force with more years of service, so that the experience bonuses add up. We don’t have data on why police officers leave departments in other jurisdictions, but retirements are the major reason police officers leave RPD.

These figures underestimate the costs of each position to the city. They do not include the city’s payments for social security or unemployment insurance and HR costs. Is it any wonder that a city looking to balance its budget has to take a close look at police costs?

Dropping police recruitment rates is currently a national issue. But there’s certainly no consensus as to why, not even among law enforcement. As with every social trend, a variety of factors appear to explain this shift. A report published by the International Association by Chiefs of Police (IACP) begins, “There is a worker shortage—not a shortage of work. Other occupations such as nursing, teaching, construction, and the military are all experiencing a skilled labor shortage.” The document goes on to note:

The difficulty in recruiting law enforcement officers and employees is not due to one particular cause. Rather, multiple social, political, and economic forces are all simultaneously at play in shaping the current state of recruitment and retention. They are both systemic in nature and reflect individual- level considerations, making solutions to the problem particularly challenging. 

Often-cited reasons for recruitment issues include:

  1.  Departments are getting fewer new members from the military, a traditional recruitment pipeline for police departments, as the overall rate of veterans declines nationally.
  2. A tight labor market (i.e., a strong job market coupled with low unemployment numbers).
  3. COVID-19, which has discouraged people from interacting with the public to protect their own health.
  4. More rigorous recruitment criteria imposed by police departments. 
    1. Departments seek more highly-educated applicants as policing becomes a more technologically complex profession.
    2. Applicants are increasingly unable to pass the physical fitness exam.
    3. Background checks include a credit score check. As debt soars in the United States, low credit scores increasingly disqualify applicants. 
  5.  An increased awareness of the psychological toll of policing. Officers have always faced significant risk for job-related stress and PTSD. 
  6. Generational Differences. The IACP report notes, “Millennials and Generation Z—loosely defined as individuals who range from high school age to their late 30s—are more apt to value work-life balance than their Baby Boomer counterparts. This translates into young people hoping for more flexible hours and guaranteed time off. Mandated overtime and missing holidays with family are less appealing to Millennials and members of Generation Z. Other shifts in U.S. culture, such as student loan debt, child care challenges for complex schedules, and the need for double incomes makes police work a stressful occupation for families today.”
  7. The public image of law enforcement in the wake of increased cell phone footage showing the murders of people of color. 

Notably, Pittsburgh Police Chief Howard Burton, in Pennsylvania, doesn’t think social unrest explains the drop in recruitment in his department. “Way back when, when I got hired in 1969, we were right in the middle of civil unrest," Chief Burton said. “They called us pigs, we were spat on, but we got through it. [...] People say no one wants to be a police officer today because of social justice unrest, but you have to look at the bigger picture, it's really a generational issue." 

There's no doubt that overwork takes a heavy toll on police officers and the community they work in. Funding for police departments, however, is not the root cause. The problem is that we are increasingly demanding that the police do a job they are not fully equipped to do. They cannot create safety as we expect. They can only respond once our safety has already been breached.

*Mike Parker wrote the first draft of this article in winter of 2021. It has been edited and added to by Shiva Mishek.