Public Servants vs. the Public


The Manhattan Institute's Josh Barro says public sector unions are making life a little worse in Oakland, California:

This month, Oakland laid off 80 police officers, just over 10 percent of its total force, in order to balance the city's budget. As a result, the city's police chief says cops will no longer respond to 44 categories of crimes, including grand theft. The city's elected officials regret the change but say they simply cannot afford to maintain current staffing levels. Whether that's true depends upon your definition of "afford."

At current levels of compensation, yes, Oakland cannot afford to maintain a police department with 776 employees. That's because total compensation for an OPD employee averages an astounding $162,000 per year. But at a more reasonable level of pay and benefits, Oakland could afford to maintain its force, or even grow it….

What's going on in Oakland is an example of a phenomenon being seen across the country: states and cities choosing between providing services to the public or maintaining luxury compensation for public employees. More often than not, public employee unions have been winning this fight, forcing service cutbacks.

Read the whole thing here. Steven Greenhut explains "how public servants became our masters" right here.

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  1. Averages 162,000/year (obviously including bennies)?!? WTF? It’s unbelievable to me that citizens routinely put up with that crap. Where I live in NH, the paper regularly publishes municipal salaries and the fight to keep them under control is battled constantly. But at least we battle it, which apparently no one in Oakland bothers to do.

    1. “Averages 162,000/year (obviously including bennies)?!? WTF? It’s unbelievable”


      I mean, you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to see that’s a bullshitingly misleading stat..

      1. a bullshitingly misleading stat

        Show your work, MNG.

        1. Sorry dude, the one who makes such an empirical claim should have to do so first. I’d like to see the work of where that figure comes from before I swallow it wholesale like many here surely will.

          1. I’m not saying you could not through some creative accounting come to such a figure for a cop. The key qualifier is “total” which lets me know they likely did a trick like adding the cost of a first class gym membership if the cops can work out at a police gym and stuff like that. If you did a similar thing for many private employees you’d find a similarly much larger number than one would think.

            1. I belong to a “first class gym” in Manhattan, and my yearly fees don’t put much of a dent in $162k.

          2. Maybe you should click the link and RTFA!

          3. Excellent. I’ll show my work.

            Starting BASE PAY for a Seattle Police officer *(NOT INCLUDING BENEFITS)* is $64,312.

            In addition:

            A 12-year veteran’s base salary would increase at least 25 percent — from $72,072 to $90,516 — by the contract’s final year.


            Work shown. Police officers do very well, MNG. Very, very well.

            1. Police officers do very well, MNG. Very, very well.

              Except with, you know, the whole serve and protect bit.

              1. Hey dunphy, if you’re lurking (and since this is a cop thread, you probably are):

                A man uses a cops taser on him and gets charged with assault with a deadly weapon. Got any creative definitions of deadly weapon for us?

      2. I too would like to see the basis for the final calculated average. But these stats from the article make me believe that the average is quite possible:

        Once an OPD officer finishes training, he or she is entitled to a starting base salary, before overtime and benefits, ranging from $71,841 to $90,459. And the payscale continues upward from there.

        Oakland police receive a generous health plan with the premium paid entirely by the city, for single or family coverage. For family coverage, this benefit was worth $15,859 as of 2009, compared to a California private sector mean of $9,159. The city also makes the entire pension contribution on behalf of police officers — 9% of their salary and overtime pay.

        Just with those stats alone, the starting pay for a new OPD officer could be around 115K (90 + 9 + 16, Salary + Pension + Health). Add to that OT (where public emps really rake it in) and salary escalations, that average is easily believable at around 140. 162 doesn’t seem that fantastic. And 140 is still insane.

        1. $70K is still insane.

          1. Police officers should be well compensated for a couple reasons. First, it’s a high risk, high stress job. Second, low pay of police encourages shakedowns and bribe taking (common in many third world countries with low paid cops).

            Now, maybe $160k is excessive. $70k certainly isn’t.

            The solution is to legalize more things (drugs is the most obvious choice), so there’s less stuff for police to do, so you can lay some of them off.

            1. IIRC, police officers doen’t make the top 10 most dangerous jobs according to the BLS.

              1. Oakland Police Officer might, though.

            2. Police officer almost never makes the list of most dangerous professions, and ‘high risk, high stress’ is just nebulous BS to justify their overpayment. Why does a cop deserve even 70k for a high stress job while private sector workers in much more dangerous and stressful positions don’t even make close to that?

              1. Because being a cop involves not just dealing with scary, yucky people, but being knowledgeable of the law, and being responsible for peoples’ freedoms.

                I am 100% for paying cops this much – 160k isn’t a lot of money in CA, especially the bay area. The starting salary is a bit excessive, but I don’t think 160k is too much for a veteran.

                I am also 100% for removing all immunity from police, firing anyone who participates in the blue wall of silence, putting cameras on every badge, and basically doing all we can to hold them accountable.

                I’m not for the pay without the accountability, though.

                1. Sorry, but 160K is a lot in California.

                  1. I live in Oakland. I don’t think 70K is an unreasonable salary for a police officer here. 160K is still a lot in California, even in the more expensive places like the SF Bay. And those premium benefits are over-the-top, especially given the abysmal financial situation of this city. The list of crimes they won’t respond to is nothing new, unless they apply to the wealthy areas of the city as well as the poor ones. I recall about 4 years ago, a Subway (sub shop) that was robbed at gunpoint was told by 911 that they didn’t have the resources to respond to “these types of calls.”

            3. I agree that police should be reasonably well compensated. But they must also be accountable for their actions and easy to fire if they do anything wrong. And not be unionized.

            4. If the police are unable to find sufficient applicants then the pay is too low, if the reverse too high.

        2. My God. I knew I shouldn’t have went into the Army. Stupid set-salary, no chance for overtime, grumble grumble.

          I’d bet GEN Petreaus doesn’t make as much as some of the more senior officers in the OPD make.

          1. If it makes you feel any better, straight out of military service and into police work is a pretty common career path.

            1. Sweet.

              I’d like to think that I’d use what I’ve learned at reason to make me more inteligent and more effective police officer who is concerned about the rights of the individuals in my jurisdiction, but, really, it would just be so much easier to abuse my power and then rely on the fact elected officials won’t want to be seen as soft on crime.

        3. For context, since I think most of y’all are beyond entry-level jobs, I made $50k in my entry-level job as a Ivy League engineering graduate.

          1. Anyone who needs to self-gloss as an “Ivy League” engineering graduate has issues. It’s utterly irrelevant to your point… whatever that is, besides “ooh look at me.”

            1. yeah!

        4. You forgot the city’s FICA contributions. That another 10K easily.

          1. The cruiser and gas ain’t free either.

          2. I thought pensioned government employees didn’t have to pay payroll taxes.

            1. I thought that was just federal employees, but I could be wrong on that.

              1. Yes, it’s federal employees that are exempt, not state/city/county.

        5. There you go. You showed your work and MNG is no where to be found. And the Manhattan institute is hardly Only MNG could believe they just made the number up.

      3. You could try “Reading The Fucking Article,” you increasingly team-blue bloviating buffoon.

  2. Sounds like Oakland is telling their citizens to arm themselves.

    1. No need. They’ve done that long ago.

  3. If Oaklanders were allowed to defend themselves, they woudn’t need as many cops anyway.

  4. I remember the NY Post printing sob stories about how newly hired NYPD dicks only made 35,000 per year, and how were the poor dears supposed to live on that?

    1. Epi
      I don’t like to defend cops, but I wouldn’t want to live off 35 k in NYC…

      1. The point is that it wasn’t 35K/year. ’cause for whatever reason, in days of yore no one in the media used to account for bennies.

        In 20 years of private employment, not one time have I overlooked the value of the bennies that I was getting.

        1. I have never met this person, and have no prior relationship with him.

          1. Buh, buh, buh, but do you know the jets?

    2. Uh, not to defend every instance of government spending, but $35K a year ain’t very much for someone living in NYC, at least if you want to hire someone with more than a high school degree.

      1. Right now the NYPD says the base starting pay is about $42,000. I believe cops also have very good benefits and a lot of opportunity for overtime; see…..rview.aspx
        I agree that cops’ pay is not really the first place to skimp, though. I think the cops’ union also bears some blame here – IIRC, a few years back, they negotiated some kind of agreement in which current cops would get a deal and future cops’ salaries would be cut. Way to screw people who aren’t actually at the bargaining table, union!

      2. They make much more in asset forfeiture commissions.

    3. NYPD dicks only made 35,000 per year, and how were the poor dears supposed to live on that?

      Move to Jersey.

      1. Know why people in NYC are pissed off all the time?

        The light at the end of the tunnel is New Jersey.

      2. You can’t work for NYC unless you live in NYC.

        1. Except if you read further down, that doesn’t seem to apply to cops. They are exempted.

  5. Seems like there’s a trend among public employees: when their funding gets cut, they do everything possible to make life miserable for the people they serve. E.g., the Douglas Cty, CO school district is now requiring parents to get online and print out report cards from there. They “can’t afford” the extravagant cost of printing out report cards themselves. I find it difficult to believe this isn’t a lame encouragement to encourage parents to vote for the next bond issue.

    1. Funny how they never threaten to lay off building inspectors.

    2. It would get me to vote for austerity in other parts of the school budget, like the salary of the Assistant Principal. Why does the Principal need an assistant when he probably also has a secretary? Gary Bettman really wouldn’t need Colin Campbell if he had a functional cock. Same theory applies here. Fire the enforcer and walk the halls yourself, asshole.

    3. Having parents look up report cards online sounds like an incredibly reasonable way to cut costs. What exactly is your beef with that? The world is going paperless and I’m pleasently suprised to see a public school district getting ahead of the curve.

      1. I don’t object to reasonable cost-cutting measures, such as having parents print out report cards. However, this occurs in a larger context where the people actually responsible for teaching kids are being laid off, while I haven’t heard of a single admin losing a job (not saying it’s not happening, just that I haven’t heard about it), and there are warehouses full of equipment (desks, computers, whiteboards) sitting idle. What I am saying is the school district is deliberately picking cost-cutting measures designed to be painful to parents and thus encourage parents as taxpayers to up their funding. Sounds a bit similar to what the Oakland PD is doing.

    4. I can’t get too upset about this. My university stopped giving students printed grades (and got rid of paper grade submissions) several years ago.

    5. Like, in “if we have to cut state funding, we will have to cut all those essential services”, eg release prisoners, lay off fireworkers because we can?t afford to? That?s political posturing, maybe even blackmail. There are so many layers of pork and waste to cut, that it?s outrageous to see voters put up with BS.

      Anyway, although cutting the police force may worsen things you could increase it ad infinitum and it would still only make the level of crime in Oalkland tolerable. Places are safe because the people have no compulsion to steal (culture), not because there are policemen on the beat.
      For example, I remember reading last year a girl was gangraped at a homecoming dance in the highschool courtyard, and the SF Chronicle stated that “at least partly to blame” was the claim that there was insufficient lighting.
      When you live in a society where the number of policemen on the beat is an issue then you know live in a shithole, the problem lays elsewhere and should be addressed; if you live in a society where getting gangraped is about lighting levels at highschool courtyards then I suggest you have no daughters.

  6. My wife was watching some house hunter show last night, and there was a dispatcher for the Philadelphia transportation system driving around in a brand new BMW, trying to sell his $150,000 row house (which was very nicely furnished), and buying a brand new (construction not even finished) gigantic 2-story house in the burbs.

  7. … what’s progressive about cutting services to low-income people so that public employees can lead affluent lifestyles?

    It’s not progressive, it’s Democratic party special interest politics. As Mickey Kaus recently said in a Reason interview

    I think the Democratic Party has been captured by its interest groups. The unions are the main one. They own the Democratic Party of California.

    Leftists may acknowledge this fact, Dem fanboys won’t.

  8. the city’s police chief says cops will no longer respond to 44 categories of crimes, including grand theft.

    Yea…but I’m sure they’re still enforcing petty crap like smoking a joint.

    1. You can bet they’ll still be enforcing anything that involves asset seizure or confiscation and fines.

    2. And videotaping one of their officers.

    3. In Oakland? Highly unlikely.…..?track=rss

      Oakland could go to pot in a big way with four proposed factory farms

      The state’s pot-friendliest city could approve a plan to set up four marijuana factory farms. But it has ignited intense opposition from medical marijuana activists, dispensary operators and growers.

  9. The cops and other government employees are just part of America’s ruling class – the kind of aristocracy my ancestors came here from Europe several hundred years ago to escape.
    There’s a very good, thought-provoking article over at The American Spectator about how this ruling class arose in the US.

  10. As a result, the city’s police chief says cops will no longer respond to 44 categories of crimes, including grand theft.

    And yet, they still have the resources to bust a family farm for selling raw milk according to today’s Reason post.

  11. There’s no way for the public to control this at all? I understand the argument for separating the police force and the city government, but when the police are explicitly refusing to do their jobs, it seems like there ought to be a button that fires all of their asses one by one until they can certainly afford to hire more people to do their jobs.

  12. I’ve said it time and time again, government at all levels should refuse to engage in collective bargaining with public employee unions.

    The proper government response should be –
    Unionize all you want, we don’t recognize you amd we will terminate employees who don’t show up for work or don’t do their jobs.

    Don’t like your compensation package? Take it to the electorate or enter the better paid (as you are all so happy to assert) private sector.

    One reason to love Reagan was his firing the air traffic controllers who struck.

  13. The fewer cops the better.

  14. AVG State and Local Govt Emp. SALARY 08- $48,809
    AVG FED Govt Emp SALARY 08-

    2008 National Med. Household Income-
    $52,029 (many 2 income households).

    10 year fed govt emp salary increase-

    10 year median household inc. increase-

    % of GOVT EMP to US POP 08-

    That sounds like a small elite to me. Also, this doesn’t get into military contractors or others indirectly employed by the government.

    1. Not all of us contractors make a ton of dough.
      What really sucks is that because my employer charges the gov by the hour, and they can’t charge the gov time and a half, and they can’t legally pay me for any hours over 40 at a rate less than time and a half, if I work over 40 they charge the gov but don’t pay me.
      It’s called “overtime exempt”.
      But if I worked for the gov directly I would get paid for overtime.

      1. Apparently, Mr Erection (or is it the artist formerly known as Hardon?), you’d probably be making a WHOLE LOT more money working for the government- even without overtime!

  15. Mr Erection (or is it the artist formerly known as Hardon?)

    I was attempting to be Gonzo the Great, but Mr Dicknose will work.

  16. Beyond the issue of pay level for the cops, this is another example of the tactic of politicans of first cutting the services that are actually used by the people paying the taxes instead of cutting stuff that is merely transfer payments from those who pay taxes to those who don’t.

    They pull this every time they don’t get a tax hike that they want.

    A huge amount of what government at all levels spends money on are merely transfer payments – not actual services provided to the specific people who are actually paying the taxes.

    But somehow it is the basic services that ARE being provided to those taxpayers that has to be cut first – police, fire dept, etc. Not the free clinic or welfare payments or anything of that sort.

    1. A time-honored scam. I think it even has a name, the “Washington Monument” or some such.

  17. As a result, the city’s police chief says cops will no longer respond to 44 categories of crimes, including grand theft.

    Where’s Radley when you need him. I’d like to see the list of bullshit they WILL respond to. Like seat belt violations and possession of narcotics. Is their SWAT team still serving warrants?

    1. we don’t need the list to know the two categories of crimes they respond to:

      1. absolutely heinous crimes like murder, rape, felonious assault
      2. crimes that increase state revenues, like you said: drugs, parking tickets, speeding tickets, etc

  18. Of course they won’t respond to grand theft. At 162K a year the first person to call in on the local police station robing them blind would start an investigative chain reaction ending with all the officers heads exploding as they investigated each other.

    Ok not really. They would get a warrant for the callers house and send the swat team to kill his dog and cat. And beat up his grandmother and wife.

    Why not fire half and hire illegal immigrants? I’m betting the service would increase, and the cost would most certainly decrease.

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