Public Safety: 2012 Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data

What is the difference between the New York City Police Department (NYPD) and the mafia? There are several, but one of the most important is that the mafia provides protection at a far more reasonable price. Perhaps because its members live in the neighborhood, and have more sympathy for the locals. Additional commentary on 2012 Census of Governments employment and payroll data for Police, Fire protection, and Corrections, along with a series of charts, may be found below.)

Chart 1

As the chart above shows, New York City had 607 full time equivalent police department employees per 100,000 residents in March 2012. That was 2.3 times the national average of 264. The size of all the local police departments combined relative to the size of the population was 320 for the Downstate Suburbs, 248 for the Upstate Urban Counties, 185 for the Rest of New York State (where the state police also provide extensive services), 332 for New Jersey, and 297 for Los Angeles County, including the City of Los Angeles where current NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton once served in the same role.

Most of the public discussion of NYC police staffing over the decades has concerned “civilianization,” having less expensive civilian employees do work that is today unnecessarily done by police officers (sworn officers with the power of arrest). It is true that police officers account for 93.0% of those employed by the NYPD, compared with 77.0% for the U.S. as a whole, 75.0% for the Downstate Suburbs, 76.0% for the Upstate Urban Counties, 78.0% for New Jersey, and 71.0% for Los Angeles County. But a larger factor in NYC’s excess police staffing is the sheer number of total police employees.

Considering police officers alone, New York City had 563 per 100,000 residents, about 2.8 times the national average. And for this government function the national average is very comparable, since like public schools (and unlike other services such as public transit or sanitation) every corner of the U.S. has police. Other parts of New York State, New Jersey, and Fairfield County Connecticut all had less than half the number of officers relative to population that NYC does. So did Los Angeles County.

And compared with the area patrolled, the level of NYPD officers staffing was even more extreme, since NYC’s population is relatively dense. The NYPD averages 100 police officers for each of NYC’s 468 square miles. The police departments of Los Angeles County, which is 4,752 square miles, averaged 4.4 police officers per square mile. Those of Cook County, dominated by the City of Chicago, averaged 13.6 officer per square mile, with 1,635 square miles in total.

While urban areas tend to have more police officers relative to population than suburban and rural areas, NYPD staffing is extreme relative even to other urban areas. The 563 police officers per 100,000 residents in NYC compares with 426 in Philadelphia County, co-terminus with the City of Philadelphia, 319 in San Francisco County, co-terminus with the City of San Francisco, 424 in Cook County, which consists mostly of the City of Chicago, and 315 in Suffolk County, which is mostly the City of Boston. Only the District of Columbia has a level of local government police employment, relative to population, that exceeds NYC. And whereas the NYPD once could have pointed to NYC’s relatively high overall crime rate as a reason why more officers were required to deal with it, NYC’s crime rate is now below the national average.

That explains why the NYPD, and the police officers’ union (the PBA), don’t get the pushback they deserve. They have done the job. Or at least some of them have. We have the equivalent of three officers to do the work done by one police officer elsewhere in the country. As shown on page 137 to 144 of this document,

the NYC Police Pension Fund’s annual reports seem to have stopped updating how many police officers there are and how much they earn after I called attention to the 2010 data. But at the time, there were 34,597 member police officers (earning an average of $100,127 each) and 44,634 retired officers. That meant that NYC had to pay for the equivalent of six or seven police forces to get the job of policing done. Of course other places also have retired police forces. But they don’t have 20 and out pensions, with more retired officers than officers still on the job like NYC.

Chart 3

As excessive as the level of NYPD staffing is today, it has been greater in the recent past. In March 2002, NYC had 2.9 times as many police officers as the national average. In March 1992, on the other hand, NYC had “only” about 2.5 times as many officers as the U.S. average – and New York City’s crime was out of control. Why did these officers, now off somewhere drawing pensions at a relatively young age that are free of state and local taxes, fail to protect New Yorkers given that sky high level of staffing at a time when the city was broke? That was a ripoff. Is would seem that only the extra officers hired on after 1992 actually prevent crime. Do the first 2.5 officers per 100,000 residents not do anything?

Although the NYPD has done a great job since the early 1990s, the level of police officers staffing is still a ripoff. It doesn’t just matter how well a job is done. It also matters how much it costs. New York City has just about the highest state and local tax burden anywhere, and it also has substantial unmet needs. That combination is such a bad deal that most NYC police officers, and retired police officers, choose to live elsewhere, and have done so for 50 years. The excess cost of the NYC police here is part of the reason.

The United Federation of Teachers seems to think that its members don’t have any obligation to do their jobs, and if one of them cannot or will not teach, the city should simply keep paying them a salary and then a pension while hiring someone else to do the work that they did not. Where did the UFT get that idea? Ordinary people have to do their jobs, or they are told to go find another one. Perhaps the UFT got the idea from the PBA and the NYPD, where more and more officers — more and more multiples of the officers required elsewhere in the U.S. – were hired until NYC was finally well policed. Though not in these exact words, I’ve seen comments from active or retired teachers (or those posing as such) asserting that if the predominantly female teachers don’t get to rip off the serfs as much as the predominantly male police officers, it’s sexism (and if the teachers don’t get to ripoff the serfs as much as Wall Street, it is unfair the middle class).

Do we need so many police officers because many don’t want to do their job? Or because the politicians and union have put so many on the job, many police officers are left with little to do? Thus in New York City we have expensive, highly trained police officers directing traffic and issuing tickets for parking and minor traffic violations. And politicians opposing all efforts to turn that work over to someone else. You have cops racing to the scene of rescues in competition with (and at times in the past violent confrontation with) firefighters. Patrolling other states, and even other countries, in competition with the FBI, CIA, and U.S. armed forces, with anti-terrorism as a justification. And you have officers desperately seeking someone they can stop and frisk, so their supervisors won’t think they’ve been goofing off all day.

Knowing just how many cops New York City has, I have been ticked off over the years whenever the current leader of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association has testified to the City Council or been quoted in the newspaper. Claiming that unless NYC hires even more officers (and increases PBA dues revenues) the police will not be able (or willing?) to protect city residents. And when NYC’s state and local politicians have agreed with them. Given the staffing they have, the pensions they have, the deal they have, how does the PBA feel it has a right to threaten the rest of us? And why does no one call them out on it? Starting with the NY Post.

More recently, the City Council has asserted that unless NYC pays for 1,000 more police officers, we serfs cannot expect the police to protect us from being run over by bad drivers. You know what that sounds like to me? Like I’m being made an offer I can’t refuse, with NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito joining New York State Senator Marty Golden in the role of consigliere.

Chart 2

As one can see state police employment, shown in the same scale as the local police in the first chart, is not a large share of overall police employment in New York State or elsewhere, save in Massachusetts. They are a significant presence in rural areas, and on the highway, and their services thus constitute a wealth transfer from urban areas and transit riders to rural areas and drivers. But then when the state attempted to provide policing in New York City, the local politicians were not amused, so perhaps that is not something the city can complain about.

New York City has far more firefighters and fire department employees per 100,000 residents than the U.S. average. The chart below uses the same scale as the chart for local government police employment, showing that although firefighters are also expensive, at least there are fewer of them.

Chart 4

New York City had 169 firefighters per 100,000 residents, compared with the U.S. average of 101, but this comparison is weakened by the presence of volunteer fire departments in many parts of the U.S. Back when I did a compilation of the 1997 Census of Governments data, I was told by the National Fire Protection Association ( that fire departments with all professional staff covered 43.2% of the nation’s population, those with mostly career staff covered 16.2%, and those with mostly volunteers covered 17.1%. Fire departments with all volunteer staff accounted for nearly three-quarters of all fire departments, but protected less than one quarter of the population.

While NYC has far more police officers per 100,000 residents than other major urban counties, the 169 NYC firefighters per 100,000 residents was not that different than San Francisco at 157, Philadelphia at 134, Dallas at 152, and King County (Seattle) at 127. Los Angeles County was lower at 87 despite brush fires, mudslides, earthquakes, riots and other disasters. Suffolk County (Boston) was higher at 224. Other parts of New York State, and the New Jersey average, had lower ratios of professional fire department employment to population. Volunteer fire departments are the likely reason.

Chart 5

While perhaps not excessive in their numbers, the NYFD is still expensive. While the number of NYC firefighters per 100,000 residents was lower in March 2012 than it had been in March 2002 due to population growth, it remains higher than in March 1992 – even though the number of fires is lower. Efforts to save money by consolidating service in fewer firehouses are resisted, since even if the firefighters have less and less work to do people want them available close by when needed. Consolidating the ambulance service within the NYFD doesn’t seem to have saved much money. Other ideas, such as integrating the Department of Buildings with the NYFD, with firefighters doing inspections between fires so homeowners doing simple renovations can deal with the local firehouse rather than the borough office of the Department of Buildings, have gone nowhere.

Let’s move on from how many police officers and firefighters there are, to how much they get paid. As noted when comparing local government employees in different places, the relative overall level of private sector pay, and thus the relative cost of living, has to be taken into account. As noted in prior posts using this data, the average private sector worker in Downstate New York earned 52.0% more than the U.S. average in 2012, but that is only due to the extremely high level of pay in the Finance and Insurance sector here. With that sector excluded, for comparison with a real labor market, the average private sector worker in Downstate New York earned 28.1% more than average. Average private sector pay was also above the U.S. average in New Jersey and Fairfield County, Connecticut, even with Finance excluded, and below the U.S. average in Upstate New York.

Chart 6

The data shows that compared with the vast majority of Downstate New York private sector workers, the average payroll per employee for NYC police officers was slightly below par at 23.6% above the U.S. average. The total compensation of NYC officers is much higher, due to their extremely expensive pensions. NYC taxpayer contributions to city police officer pensions equaled about 70.0% of payroll in 2010, according to the Annual Report of the police pension fund, and despite that the fund was (optimistically) just 60.0% funded. Including retirement and other benefits the cost of the average NYC police officer may be as a much $250,000 or $300,000 each.

So what kind of officers does the city attract, for that level of overall compensation? Those willing to take the job for a starting cash pay level of $25,000 per year, under a deal scored in the mid-2000s by the PBA with that sucker Mayor Bloomberg. Enough to make me barf. It would seem to me that a compensation package under which the police officers don’t realize how good they have it until after they are gone would likely lead to a less motivated, less qualified police force. Despite my expectation, however, the NYPD has in fact done the job. Still, its has required 2.8 times the number officers the typical place has to get the job done.

If you believe what you read, moreover, the average NYPD police officer does feel underpaid. Even though the average payroll per employee per NYPD officer was above the U.S. average by only slightly less than one might expect (23.6%), based on the typical private sector wage here (28.1% above average), and was comparable to Cook County – Chicago (25.1% above the U.S. average), Suffolk County – Boston (33.2%) above average. In Los Angeles County, where the average private sector worker earned just 10.6% more than the U.S. average, the average police officer earned 43.1% more than the U.S. average. But that was less of a burden on Los Angeles taxpayers, because Los Angeles has far fewer police officers relative to population than NYC.

Compared with the typical private sector neighbor, police officer pay was extremely high in the Downstate NY Suburbs in 2012, at 55.9% more than the U.S. average for police officers. The sky-high pay of the Nassau and Suffolk County police forces is well known. Many NYPD officers feel aggrieved that they are paid less than suburban police officers, because most of them live in the suburbs. Police officer pay was also high in New Jersey, and high relative to private sector conditions in Upstate New York. Once again, however, those pay levels were multiplied by a smaller number of police officers relative to population. The total cost of the NYPD will be compared with police departments elsewhere when the finance phase of the Census of Governments comes out late this year. Based on past years I can tell you know that the police force accounts for a significant share of NYC’s excess tax burden.  And based on past years, I can tell you that the combination of a relatively high level of employment and low level of pay, or high level of pay and low level of employment, repeats for other public services.

Chart 7

Unfortunately, my multi-decade comparison of average payroll per police officer doesn’t work for March 2002, because something funky was going on in the wake of 9/11. The data makes it seem as if police officers from the suburbs were working in, and being paid by, NYC, making payroll per worker appear to soar for the NYPD and shrink for the rest of the region. Comparing 1992 with 2012, however, one can reasonable state that the average payroll per police officer is about the same relative to the U.S. average in New York City. Police officers have gotten richer, relative to the average U.S. police officer, in the Downstate Suburbs, the Upstate Urban Counties, the Rest of New York State, New Jersey, and Fairfield County, Connecticut. The cost of police pensions has also soared in these areas, although not to the extent that it has in NYC. That is, the cost has soared if the taxpayers are actually paying it.

Chart 8

While the average payroll per NYC police officer was slightly lower than par, based on the “double comparison” with the U.S. average and with the relative average pay for most private sector workers, the average payroll per NYC firefighter was above par. The average NYC firefighter (and remember this is cash pay only, not including the cost of the 20 and out pensions) earned 39.8% more than the average U.S. firefighter in March 2012, whereas the average Downstate New York private sector worker (excluding finance) earned just 28.1% more than the average U.S. private sector worker in 2012. As a matter of custom, the pay scale for NYC firefighters (and sanitation workers) is based on the average pay of NYC police officers, not the average pay of similar workers elsewhere in the U.S. adjusted for the local average wage.

Instead of being far higher than par, as it was for police officers, the average payroll per firefighter for the Downstate Suburbs was right at the expected level at 28.2% above the U.S. average. Firefighter pay was high, in a relative sense, in Upstate New York and New Jersey.

Chart 9

As was the case for police officers, average payroll per firefighter data isn’t really comparable for March 2002, because of all the post-9/11 overtime. Once can say, however, that compared with the average U.S. firefighter, payroll per firefighter increased somewhat from 1992 to 2012 in New York City and the Upstate Urban Counties. And increased a whole lot in that time span in the Downstate Suburbs, the Rest of New York State (were state aid to fire departments instituted under former Governor Pataki may have played a role), and New Jersey.

Finally, let’s move on to Corrections, a government function split between local government (jails for those who commit misdemeanors or are awaiting trial) and state government (prisons).

Chart 10

As shown in the chart above, local government Corrections employment per 100,000 residents was above the U.S. average in every region of New York State as I have defined them, with New York City the highest of all. The figures were 82 local corrections workers per 100,000 residents in the U.S., 135 for NYC, 103 for the Downstate Suburbs, 122 for the Upstate Urban Counties, and 123 in the Rest of New York State. Back in the 1990s local officials blamed state mandates for the high level of local government corrections employment in New York. The state prisons were full, and the state was keeping inmates in local jails that elsewhere would have been in state prisons. But by 2012 the state prisons were emptying, and that explanation no longer made sense.

Chart 11

Moreover, New York’s state prison employment per 100,000 residents was also relatively high in March 2012, at 163 compared with the U.S. average of 140. Most other states had fewer state corrections workers per 100,000 residents than New York, even though most other states had more criminals (if white collar crime is excluded) than New York. North Carolina and Connecticut had more state prison workers per 100,000 resident than New York, but North Carolina had far fewer local government workers in this category, and Connecticut had none.

Just because it is the national average doesn’t make it right, and it may be that other in other parts of the country prisons are understaffed. Private sector prisons may also reduce the ratio of government corrections workers to population in other places, and the U.S. average, relative to New York. Even so, New York’s state and local government corrections employment seems a little large.

Chart 12

And what do New York City’s corrections workers get paid? A hell of a lot, compared with similar workers elsewhere. While the average private sector worker in Downstate New York earned 28.1% more than the U.S. average, if the overpaid Finance and Insurance sector is excluded, the average NYC Department of Corrections employee earned 78.1% more than the national average. The average payroll per local government corrections worker in the Downstate Suburbs was about what one would expect at 30.3% more than the U.S. average, while Upstate local government jailers were relatively well paid compared with the low paid private sector there. In New Jersey, where the average private sector worker earned 17.1% more than the U.S. average, the average local government correction worker earned 50.6% more than the U.S. average.

Chart 13

And how about state prison workers? The average payroll per state correctional employee was 30.4% above the U.S. average in New York State. Which would not been too high in high-wage Downstate New York, but must be just about the highest-paid job around in low-paid Upstate New York. Other than state police, and state aid-funded teachers. And with the exception of the former Sing Sing, all of the state prisons are in Upstate New York. New Jersey’s average payroll per state correctional worker was also really high at 43.4% above the U.S. average.

I’ll work up some charts on health care and social assistance and write another post as soon as I have the time. But if you are catching on to what the data means, you can look at the tables and see for yourself by downloading the spreadsheets attached to this post.


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