Police, Firefighters, and Their Salaries

by Conor Friedersdorf

Police and firefighter compensation are the subjects of an excellent piece that Dan Foster has published at National Review. The short version of his argument is that they cost way too much, especially when their pensions are factored into the equation.

Early in my career, I served as beat reporter for a city where the firefighters' union wielded more power than any other lobby (with the possible exception of a commercial and residential real estate company -- it was the height of the housing boom). Especially in the years after 9/11, what city councilman was going to stand up to firefighters during contract negotiations when, come election time, the whole crew could go door to door, all clean cut, telling swooning women, "Yeah, we're really concerned about keeping the families of this city safe, and the leaders we have now are making choices that are going to cost innocent lives if they're not overturned. The candidate we're backing served with us for 20 years -- in fact, he's the one who saved that baby girl in the Oak Street fire last year. We're not usually very political, ma'am, but we know where this guy's priorities are. Can we count on your support?"

In the piece, Mr. Foster reports that "average total compensation for an officer in Oakland a city in which the median family earns $47,000 is $162,000 per year." It must be historically unusual for a police officer to earn more than three times as much as the average family in his jurisdiction.