What you make matters

A story about the salaries of Chicago suburban police has stirred up interest in how local government decides what to pay the members of their individual forces.

The article, written by reporter Jake Griffin and appearing in the Daily Herald on April 25, does a good job of covering the salaries of police in 77 communities in the paper’s coverage area. The results of a survey completed in connection with the story were interesting, but the public remarks that follow the story were revealing, too. Here’s what Griffin’s research on the subject found, in a nutshell:

The town of Hoffman Estates, with 73 full-time officers, paid the highest average salary of $89,056.28. (It should be noted that the pay rates discussed in the article are for rank-and-file officers with no supervisory duties.) Average salary for the survey respondents (two departments did not respond and one department responded but had no full-time police officers on staff) was $79,000.46. The lowest salary reported was by the town of Sleepy Hollow, which has five full-time officers and pays $41,601 on average per officer.

Only four departments paid less than $50,000. A surprising 22 departments pay $80,000 and up. The department with the smallest number of officers paying more than $80,000 was Lincolnshire with only 17 full-time sworn. Most of the lowest paid departments were also the smallest ones in terms of manpower.

Interestingly, the article didn’t focus on salary alone; it centered on how the highest paid department landed a lucrative contract with the village of Hoffman Estates that gave officers raises five years in a row, increasing their pay by 20 percent, or $1.3 million, over that period of time.

Griffin wrote that “Critics say such salaries not only cut into funds for other municipal services, but increase pension liabilities” and quotes an economist as addressing how California public safety salaries have helped to bankrupt some municipalities.

None of this is news to police. Salaries have long been under assault from both media sources and local governments trying to hold the line against shrinking revenues and rising costs. And, I think most police officers understand that being a cop will never be the best-paying job in the world. Very few, if any, individuals enter the profession for the money and benefits. It’s a profession driven by pure love of what you’re doing and fueled by the mission. Anyone who enters law enforcement thinking it’s a great fast ride to a secure future hasn’t factored in the injuries, stress and personal problems that go along with the job. Stability isn’t a hallmark of police employment.

But what fascinated me most about this story were the comments posted at the end of the article. Many people chimed in, but the overall theme wasn’t what I anticipated. Maybe I underestimate the people we serve, but after reading those comments I was amazed to see that the vast majority were supportive of police and the salaries they earn. Several pointed out that their local law enforcement officers made far less than other municipal staffers while also putting their lives on the line each and every day.

I expected the public to jump in and complain about the perceived high salaries earned by police during a time of economic struggle and instead found support for public safety and respect for our right to earn a living.

And, while there were a few who denigrated the job that police do, the vast majority had nothing but good things to say about their local cops. Sometimes, it’s nice to be wrong and this is certainly one of those times.