Public Safety: Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data for 2017

In March 1997, New York City was very early into what would become a long decline in its crime rate.  The number of officers was inflated by thousands of extra officers hired with an extra tax surcharge under the “Safe Streets Safe City” plan under former Mayor Dinkins and his police commissioner Ray Kelly.  New York City had 42,715 full time equivalent police officers, 2.7 times as many as the US. average per 100,000 residents.  By March 2007 crime had plunged, a decrease widely credited to the “Broken Window” and “Compstat” innovations of former Mayor Giuliani, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and his successors.  The city promoted itself as the safest in the nation.  New York City had 46,776 police officers, 2.8 times the U.S. average per 100,000 residents.  In March 2017 crime had plunged further. Mayor Bill DeBlasio had been elected in part by promising to get an out of control police department back under control.  New York City had 49,477 police officers, or 3.0 times the U.S. average per 100,000 residents, though their mean pay was only slightly above the U.S. average.

So data from the various Censuses of Governments that I have tabulated over the decades has shown.  But is that really the case?  And what about the NYC Fire Department, the much-criticized NYC Corrections Department, the state prisons, and comparable agencies elsewhere in New York State, the NY metro area and country?  Are we really being told the truth about the actual reason for the plan to close the jails at Rikers Island?  Let’s take a look.

This is a fourth post on employment and payroll data from the 2017 Census of Governments.  The first post, which describes where the data came from and how it was prepared, and includes spreadsheets with data on all government functions and areas I included in the analysis, was here.

And should be read first, so you know what you are seeing.  The second post was on elementary and secondary education, and the third on public higher education.

This post is on state and local government police and corrections, and local government fire protection.  A spreadsheet with reorganized tables and the charts used in this post (and perhaps some others – there is just so much more available than I can write about – is here).

Public Safety employment-and-payroll-2017

Since police officers, like teachers, are something everyplace has, the Police Protection function accounts for the second highest number of local government employees, behind Elementary and Secondary Education.  And state Corrections accounts for the second highest number of state government employees by function, behind state government Higher Education and just ahead of state public Hospitals.

In employment and payroll data the police are divided into two categories, officers and others.  And fire protection workers are divided into two categories, firefighters and others.  According to the Census Bureau manual.

Click to access 2006_classification_manual.pdf

Firefighters are not defined further, but “others” are said to specifically include medical and ambulance personnel, when operated by fire departments.  Those workers should not have been tabulated as firefighters.  Police officers are only those employees with “the power of arrest.”  Other police protection employees are said to include school crossing guards (as part-time employees only).

So what does the data show?  It is for full-time equivalent workers, which is full time workers, plus part timers converted into a smaller number of full time workers by adding up their hours worked.


In March 2017, New York City had 586 full time equivalent local government police officers per 100,000 residents, according to the data as presented, 3.0 times the U.S. average of 198.  The Downstate NY Suburbs, Upstate Urban Counties, New Jersey and Fairfield County were all close to the U.S. average, with the Downstate NY suburbs, New Jersey and Fairfield County slightly higher, and the Upstate Urban Counties slightly lower.

New Jersey’s “other” local government police employment was 79 per 100,000 residents, well above the U.S. average of 56.  The other areas were close to or slightly below the U.S. average.

For the Rest of New York State, rural counties that also include small towns and small cities such as Jamestown, Oneonta, Elmira, Watertown and Amsterdam, the Census Bureau records 143 police officers and 33 other police employees per 100,000 residents.  That is well below the U.S. average.  But is in these areas that most of New York’s state government police officers also provide police protection services.

I used a similar scale to show that compared with local government police, state government police are relatively few in number.  The U.S. average for officers is 20 per 100,000 residents, compared with 26 in New York State, 29 in New Jersey, and 34 in Connecticut.  Pennsylvania is high at 41, but Texas has just 14. The legend of the Texas Ranger is apparently based on very few people.  California is average at 20.

If the number of NY State police officers were divided by the population of the Rest of New York alone, however, it would be a very high number – 209 officers per 100,000 people, or more than the U.S. average for local government police officers all by itself, for a state and local total of 368 offices per 100,000 residents.  That would still be less than NYC.  The reality of police protection in the Rest of New York State is probably somewhere between the 158 officers per 100,000 at the local government level and that 368.


New York City’s local police officer employment per 100,000 residents is high not only in comparison with other parts of the state and metro area, but also compared with the counties that include (or are co-terminus with) other large cities and significant older cities.  The only place that exceeded the 586 officers for NYC was the 605 for Washington DC, where the officers also protect the nation’s capital.

This is consistent with what I have written in the past.  Looking at the data this time, however, I realized something new.

While the Census of Governments reports 49,477 local government police officers for the City of New York for March 2017, Census Bureau public pension finance data shows the number of active members of the NYC police pension fund was just 36,165 in 2017.  What is going on?

Apparently, NYC police employees who are not officers, do not carry guns, do not confront criminals, and do not have the power of arrest are being incorrectly counted as officers in Census of Governments data.  Probably including Transportation Enforcement Agents, once part of the New York City Department of Transportation, but transferred to the NYPD in 1996.

NYPD traffic enforcement agents perform work of varying degrees of difficulty in traffic enforcement areas in New York City. When required, an agent issues summonses to illegally parked vehicles, directs traffic at intersections, testifies at administrative hearing offices and in court, prepares required reports, and may be called upon to operate a motor vehicle.

Far from being real officers, the union for these workers objected to even a few supposedly police-like duties.

NYPD traffic enforcement agents, once relegated to just writing parking tickets and directing traffic, have been given new duties over the last few years from recovering stolen automobiles to handling fender benders to responding to 311 complaints about blocked driveways — all jobs traditionally handled by actual police officers. Union heads are trying to quash the new responsibilities, which are couched as part of city pilot programs, until the agents get extra compensation or protection.

Before 1996, agents wore brown uniforms and were known as “brownies.” They started wearing blue after becoming part of the police department but don’t carry a gun.

With the same colors, just different patches and badges, it is hard to tell real officers and TEAs apart, aside from latter being more likely to be city residents, women, and members of minority racial and ethnic groups. Since the average street criminal isn’t that smart, perhaps having an extra Potemkin police force of 13,300-plus “officers” on the street might be a sneaky way to deter crime.

It fooled the Census Bureau.  It fooled me as I biked around the city, when the TEAs started directing traffic at more intersections (“gee, there suddenly seem to be cops everywhere!”).  But I’ll tell you who it didn’t fool.  Motor vehicle drivers, who I observe blowing right by the TEAs as if nothing will happen in response all the time.  And nothing does.  Can’t the City of New York at least give them cell phones to video the vehicles that do so, and their license plates, and fine these sociopaths?

“It’s a risk and a safety issue,” said Syed Rahim, the president of the Communications Workers of America Local 1182, which represents traffic enforcement agents. “If the police do this job, then the motorist knows that the officer has a gun. With traffic enforcement agents they do not care.”

According to Rahim, an average of three agents were spit at or verbally or physically assaulted on the job every week before the pilot programs began. More are expected as agents do work usually performed by police officers, he said.

I used the data from the Census Bureau’s NYC police pension data to reduce the number of officers and increase the number of “others” in the prior chart.


No matter how you slice it, however, the NYC police department is relatively huge, and a huge burden on the people of NYC.  Recalculated, one finds that the number of police officers per 100,000 residents in Miami-Dade (437), St. Louis (436) and Philadelphia (400) is close to NYC (429).  But NYC still has 2.2 times more local government police officers per 100,000 residents than the U.S. average.  And that 429 for NYC is far more than other parts of the NY metro area, Los Angeles County at 205, Harris County (Houston) at 194, Suffolk County (Boston) at 302, Cook County (Chicago) at 345, and just about anywhere else.

Up until the late mid-1960s, when the first Baby Boomers were in their late teens and started wrecking havoc, moreover, NYC had always had around 25,000 police officers, compared with the 36,165 today.  The force was reduced to 25,000 by the city’s 1970s fiscal crisis, as the Ed Koch video in the first post in this series shows, but crime was out of control.  It would appear that it is only the one-third of the force in excess of 25,000 that does anything about crime.

And it isn’t just a huge number of active officers that makes the NYPD hugely expensive.  It is also the retired officers.  With retirement after just 20 years, perhaps in a person’s early or mid 40s, and thus far more years in retirement than years worked, the NYPD has more of those than anywhere else to an even greater extent.

In 2017, according to Census Bureau public employee pension data, the NYC police pension fund had 36,165 active members, down slightly from the 38,217 recorded for 1997.  There were 48,540 retired officers in 2017, a 50.4% increase from the 32,822 in 1997.

The number of active officers has also increased recently, by nearly 1,686 from 2014 to 2018, after edging down in the wake of the Great Recession. After Bill DeBlasio was elected Mayor, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association said there is no way its officers would protect NYC residents from being killed by drivers unless they got another 1,000 officers.  City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito pushed through legislation to hire the additional officers, over DeBlasio’s objections, and despite falling crime.   In return the NYPD delivered a three-week crackdown on reckless driving at one point along the way.

NYPD’s Reckless Driver ‘Crackdown’ is a Breezy Three-Week Affair

And pedestrian and traffic deaths have soared.   The PBA has again demanded even more officers for traffic enforcement duties. As is the case of “school reform,” the reform seems to be making the serfs pay more for the same, or less.

While everyone has police officers, not everyone has professional fire departments.  Fire protection is provided by professionals, volunteers, and sometimes a mix of the two.


So it perhaps isn’t telling that the NYFD has far more firefighters per 100,000 city residents than the U.S. average, other parts of New York State, or New Jersey.  After all, as far as I know NYC only has volunteer firefighters in a few small, odd, isolated traditionally Irish enclaves.


Compared with the counties containing or co-terminus with other large and once large older cities, the 186 NYFD firefighters per 100,000 NYC residents doesn’t seem as out of line as the number of NYPD police officers is. The comparable figures were 201 for San Francisco, 252 for Washington DC, 232 for Miami-Dade, 192 for Baltimore City, 225 for St. Louis City, 152 for Philadelphia, and 167 for Harris County (Houston).  Cook County (Chicago) has fewer at 124.  Los Angeles County has fewer still, as in the case of police officers, at just 79.

With improved building and fire codes increasing the fire safety of buildings, the number of actual fires has plunged relative to the number of people across the country.

The number of NYC firefighters per firehouse is fixed by contract. And NYC residents don’t want any firehouses to close, because they still want one nearby in case they ever need one, even if the firefighters have less and less to do.  In New York City, therefore one finds a large number of fire trucks showing up, along with multiple ambulances and perhaps the police, whenever someone calls an ambulance.

Since NYC is fixed in area and its population is rising, however, I thought that at least the number of fire protection employees per 100,000 people might decrease, limiting the tax burden of fire protection on New Yorkers. But that hasn’t happened.


For New York City the fire protection total, including non-firefighters, was 202 full time equivalent per 100,000 residents in March 1997, 201 in 2007, and 205 in 2017, even as the city’s population increased from 7,773,443 to 8,622,698.

There were decreases in many parts of the country after 2007, once the financial crisis forced public safety pension funds to admit that the amount of taxpayer contributions required was far greater than they previously claimed. Even so, the U.S. average of 110 per 100,000 for 2017, while down from 112 in 2007, was still up from 102 in 1997.  The Upstate Urban Counties and Fairfield County are among the areas that had fewer local government fire protection employees in 2017 than in 1997.  So was Los Angeles County, where it was low to begin with.

While the number of NYFD firefighters may not seem out of line with other major urban counties with lots of professional fire protection, moreover, the number of retired NYC firefighters certainly is.  In 2017, according to Census Bureau public employee pension data, the NYC fire pension fund had 11,090 active members, slightly fewer than the 11,293 recorded for 1997.  And it had 15,611 retired firefighters receiving pension payments, a 12.7% increase from the 13,856 recorded for 1997.  (There were an additional 1,641 surviving spouses receiving benefits.)  A small part of this is related to 9/11. The number of actives fell by 632 and the number of beneficiaries increased by 1,265 from 2001 to 2004.

As is the case for NYC police officers, however, one wonders if there has been some mis-reporting of the number of actual firefighters, compared with other NYC fire protection workers, in the Census of Governments.  The Census of Governments reports 15,705 full time equivalent firefighters in March 2017, compared with the mere 11,090 active members of NYFD pension fund.  Another merger might explain the apparent error associated with this discrepancy.

Medical emergencies have outnumbered fires since the municipal ambulance service, known as the Emergency Medical Service (EMS), merged with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) in 1996.  But the merger was not accompanied by a fundamental transformation of the organization and staffing of the FDNY. As a result, the FDNY does not efficiently address its most common job: responding to medical emergencies. 

Because there just aren’t a lot of fires anymore.

Chart3b-pIncluding the mis-classified non-officers, NYC local government police officer employment hasn’t gone down much either, measured per 100,000 city residents, despite a soaring population and plunging crime.  NYC police “officer” employment slipped from 584 per 100,000 in 2007 to 574 in 2017 while remaining above the 549 in 1997.  One finds the same up and then down pattern for the U.S., except that the 198 officers per 100,000 people nationwide is now slightly below the 200 in 1997.

Other places have had more significant declines.  The Downstate Suburbs were at 229 officers per 100,000 people in March 2017, down from 289 in March 1997.  The Upstate Urban Counties fell to 195 from 202, and Fairfield County fell from to 204 from 233.    Los Angeles County fell to 205 from 246, and Harris County fell to just 194 from 297.

In many of these cases soaring pension costs have forced cuts in active officers, but NYC pension costs have soared as well, to even higher levels. The Miami-Dade decrease was to 437 from 620.  The number of officers per 100,000 people was lower in 2017 than in 1997 in Cook County (Chicago) despite a worse than average crime problem and a stagnant population.

In the rural and small town Rest of New York State, on the other hand, the number of local government police officers per 100,000 residents increased from 129 in 1997 to 158 in 2017.  The number officers increased from 3,480 in March 1997 to 3,767 in March 2017, but the population fell from 2.7 million in 1997 to 2.39 million in 2017.

Meanwhile, the number of state government police officers in New York State increased from 3,995 in March 1997 to 4,997 in 2017, or from 21 officers per 100,000 state residents to 26.  To the extent that these officers are concentrated Upstate, the increase relative to the falling population there is even greater.

While lower than New York City, and not much higher than the U.S. average, the 229 full time equivalent local government police officers per 100,000 residents in New York’s Downstate Suburbs was higher than in any of the other affluent, mostly suburban counties I tabulated for comparison. California was notably lower at 197 for Orange County, 133 for San Mateo County, and 102 for Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley-San Jose).  Baltimore County, located outside Baltimore, and Arapahoe County, outside Denver, came closest at 223 and 225, respectively. Montgomery County in Maryland has 166, and Montgomery County in Pennsylvania has 174.

The sort of places people, businesses, and even retired NY public employees are moving to have fewer police officers relative to population than the Downstate Suburbs, including Fairfax County VA, at 112, Wake County NC (Raleigh) at 169, and Palm Beach County at 195.

The mean payroll per March 2017 local government police officer, moreover, was sky-high in the Downstate Suburbs, at 72.5% above the U.S. average for all police officers.  The mean earnings (including benefits) per private sector worker in Downstate New York (excluding Wall Street workers in Manhattan) was just 21.4% higher than the U.S. average.

Police officers were rich in cash pay, as well as in benefits and years in retirement, compared with their neighbors, in the Upstate Urban Counties as well, where local government police officers earned 14.6% more than the U.S. average but their private sector neighbors earned 8.8% less.  And New Jersey, where those working in the state’s private sector earned 14.6% more than average, but local government police officers earned 34.6% more.

The relatively low staffing levels of California police departments are balanced by relatively high pay.  According to statewide data, the mean earnings per private sector worker in that state was 16.1% higher than the U.S. average, but the mean payroll per local government police officer was 50.7% higher than the U.S. average in March 2017.  And the mean payroll per state government police officer was 41.4% above average.

Texas is the reverse.  That’s state’s 2017 mean earnings per private sector worker was just 1.1% below the U.S. average, but its mean March payroll per local government police officer was 9.6% below average, and its mean payroll per state police officer was 18.3% below average.

New York City’s mean payroll per local government police officer, according to Census of Governments data, was just 4.0% above the U.S. average, well below the 21.4% above the U.S. average in earnings for Downstate New York’s private sector workers, but that is misleading.

For one thing, NYC’s police officers were working without a contract in March 2017, and March 2007, March 1997, and most of the years in between.  They were later retroactively paid more for these years than the Census of Governments data shows.  Meanwhile, March 2002 pay data was inflated by post-9/11 overtime.  Here are all the years of data for NYC police officers that I have readily at hand.

So perhaps 20.0% above the U.S. average, similar to Downstate NY private sector workers, is more accurate for NYC police officers. Except, as I now realize, this data includes those who are not, in fact officers.  (That may be true on other places, and thus affect the U.S. average, as well).

Perhaps another improved measure of what NYC police officers are paid is what NYC firefighters were paid.  By a longstanding tradition of “parity” the two are the same, though the PBA keeps trying to break it in favor of the police, which is why the police are working without a contract and holding out for a better deal almost all the time.

In March 2017, the mean payroll per FTE NYC firefighter was 18.4% above the U.S. firefighter average, slightly below the 21.4% above average in earnings for Downstate NY private sector workers (excluding Wall Street), according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data.

But this, once again, incorrectly includes lower-paid workers who are not firefighters, I now realize by comparing Census of Governments data with pension data.  So for actual NYC firefighters (and police officers), the extent to which they are paid more than similar workers in the rest of the country is probably more than 18.4% higher.

As is the case for police officers, California fire departments combine much lower staffing levels with much higher pay levels.  The payroll per worker for Los Angeles County local government firefighters was 82.4% above the U.S. average in March 2017.  For Orange County (the OC), that was more than double the U.S. average.

While most people would agree that police officers and firefighters should be well compensated, it is important to realize just how high pay levels for these fields are, compared with the rest of us.  And that mean payroll per police officer and firefighter has been rising when adjusted for inflation (and the cost of their benefits has been soaring), while the median cash pay of private sector workers has been falling.

While the majority of that compensation is not in cash, to give some idea of the cash pay for public safety I multiplied mean March payroll data from the Census of Governments by 12 to approximate annual payroll per employee (overtime is probably greater in other months), and adjusted for inflation.

For “firefighters” (plus some others in NYC), the U.S. average was $78,457 in March 2017, up 5.1% from 1997.  That’s the average.  New firefighters get less, but others get much more.  The averages were $92,642 for NYC in 2017, up 17.8% from 1997 after adjustment for inflation, $106,080 for the Downstate Suburbs, up 14.9%, $77,092 for the Upstate Urban Counties, up 6.9%, $69,869 for the Rest of New York State, up 12.2%, $95,549 for New Jersey, up 3.8%, and $94,594 for Fairfield County, up 11.0%.

According to the report of the NYC Fire pension fund, however, the average actual NYC firefighter was paid $107,773 in the year ending June 2016, much more than the data reported to the Census of Governments, which erroneously includes non-firefighters.  That is 37.5% more than the U.S. average for firefighters.  Page 155.

Click to access fire-pension-fund-cafr.pdf

Remember that Census Bureau data shows the average Millennial is paid 25.0% less than the average Baby Boomer had been at the same age.

For local government police “officers” (plus some others in NYC), the U.S. average was $77,432 in March 2017, up 7.1% from 1997.  Again, that’s the average.  New hires get much less, but those about to retire get much more, and that end of career pay is what their pensions are based on.  According to the Census of Governments the averages were $80,530 for NYC in 2017, up 13.2% from 1997 after adjustment for inflation, $133,601 for the Downstate Suburbs, up 20.8%, $88,702 for the Upstate Urban Counties, up 10.5%, $65,819 for the Rest of New York State, up 6.4%, $104,217 for New Jersey, up 5.9%, and $84,650 for Fairfield County, up 9.5%.

For actual police officers, however, according to the annual report of the NYC police officer pension fund, average annual pay for actual officers equaled $103,500 in the year to June 2015, two years before the 2017 Census of Governments. That’s the average!  The annual pension payment is based on final pay, which is much, much higher. That figure for actual officers in NYC is 33.7% above the U.S. average, as reported by the Census of Governments. Page 236.

Click to access cafr2017.pdf

Whenever police officer pay is discussed, all you hear is that NYC police officers are underpaid compared with those in the suburbs, since the suburbs is where NYC police officers live.  What is not mentioned is that their pension benefits are so rich, and the level of past disability retirement so high, that NYC taxpayers have to contribute to the NY police pension fund an additional 65.4% of their total pay.  From the pension fund annual report, page 239.

That is vastly more than taxpayers just about anywhere else have to pay for police pensions.  And it is bound to soar higher when the latest stock market bubble deflates. The comparable figure for NYC firefighters?  Taxpayers contribute 92.6% of payroll to the pension fund.  Page 158.

So the actual pay is double what you see, with very rich health benefits on top of that.

The other thing you might hear about is the low starting pay for new NYC firefighters and police officers.  That’s because the NYC police officer and firefighter unions, and all NY public unions, fight to keep starting pay as low as possible, to hide how well off they actually are, and screw the newbies to benefit those moving to Florida.  Their biggest ever score in that regard came via a deal with the “financially sophisticated” former Mayor Bloomberg.

Rookie cops will earn a paltry $25,100 a year under a new contract approved by a state arbitration panel – the lowest starting salary for NYPD officers in at least 20 years. The drastic pay cut is designed to help fund a 25% raise over two years for officers already on the payroll. But critics fear it will harm the NYPD’s ability to recruit new cops….

It certainly did.  Quite a few of those $25,000 a year cops ended up going to jail for committing crimes themselves. Meanwhile, the pensions of those officers who retired were 25.0% higher thanks to that raise.

Mayor Bloomberg, who had wanted to grant cops a raise of no more than 5% over three years, said last night the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association “chose” to lower rookie salaries in exchange for higher pay for veterans.

Bloomberg, sticking with parity, then cut the same deal with the NYFD. And then had to fight both unions for years to try to increase starting pay from that indecent level.  It is still lower, compared with the pay levels for those cashing in and moving out, before that deal.  The people of NYC are permanently screwed by a deal 15 years ago, just one example among many.

New York State police officers, meanwhile, may be relatively few in number, but they aren’t cheap at $125,656 each in 2017, up 2.1% from 1997. Which is why, as someone who left public service in protest fearing the financial ruin of the NYC transit system, I’m really upset that the MTA will be paying for 500 more of them out of its own budget (taking money away from transit maintenance) under a plan from Governor Cuomo.  Given the massive staffing levels of the NYPD, is that really necessary?  What is going on?

Check out that 72.8% increase in mean payroll per state police employee for Massachusetts from 1997 to 2017.  That state has been downsizing its state police force, so it has relatively few new hires to bring the average down.  This shows just how little new hires make compared with the average in most police and fire departments.

The Massachusetts state police department had previously grown to an unusually large size, in part because gangster Whitey Bulger had the Boston city police and the local office of the FBI, but not the state police, in his pocket.  Now it seems it’s the Massachusetts state police who have gone bad.

The mean payroll per full time equivalent New York state government police officer was 43.7% more than the U.S. average for state police officers in March 2017.  But the mean earnings per private sector worker working in New York State was just 12.0% above average.  And the mean earnings per private sector worker in Upstate NY, where most NY state police officers work, was below average.

Let’s move on to Corrections, for which state governments are bigger players.

As a general rule, state governments run prisons, for felony offenders serving long sentences, while local governments run jails, for those awaiting trial and those guilty of misdemeanors.  But in New England, the state government runs both.

For state and local government combined, the data shows that in March 2017 New York State had 294 state Corrections workers per 100,000 state residents, far above the U.S. average of 219, New Jersey at 166, Connecticut at 161, Massachusetts at 172, Pennsylvania at 246, North Carolina at 242, Texas at 246, Illinois at 183.  Of the states I chose to compile data for, Virginia is closest to New York at 290.

Just looking at state government Corrections workers alone, New York State had 165 per 100,000 residents, higher than the U.S. average of 138. Among the states tabulated that also have significant local government employment in the category, only North Carolina had more state government Corrections employees per 100,000 residents, at 189.

With street crime falling across the county, and fewer prisoners, state government corrections employment is down relative to population, but not by much.  The number of full time equivalent state corrections workers in the U.S. fell from 470,463 in March 2007 to 447,793 in March 2017, and therefore the number per 100,000 U.S. residents fell from 156 per 100,000 U.S. residents to 138.

For New York State, state corrections employment fell from 180 per 100,000 state residents in March 2007 to 165 in March 2017.  The total number fell from 34,368 in 2007 to 32,252 in 2017.  That isn’t much of a decrease, compared with the decrease in crime, despite the closing of some state prisons.  Decades ago, during the peak of the high crime era, the State of New York forced its local governments to retain some of those convicted of felonies in local jails until more state prisons could be built.  That certainly shouldn’t be the case anymore.

I know there are private sector prisons.  I tried to find Department of Justice data on the number of prisoners in actual state government prison facilities, but the tables all seem to combine state and federal prisons.  The information I did find, however, indicates that most private sector prisons house federal prisoners, not state and local government prisoners.

In short, I can’t find any reason why New York’s state and local government Corrections employment per 100,000 residents should be so much higher than the U.S. average.

One reason for the small decrease may be that New York state government Corrections jobs are so well paid compared with the other options in Upstate New York, and are fiercely defended by the elected officials there, even those from the “small government” Republican Party.

State prisons should be affordable, because taxes to fund them can be collected in metro New York, where the mean earnings per private sector worker is 21.4% higher than the U.S. average (down from 27.4% above average 20 years earlier), but the prisons are located in the rural Rest of New York State, where the mean earnings per private sector worker is 24.1% below the U.S. average.

But the mean March 2017 payroll per New York state government Corrections employee was 28.5% above the U.S. average.  NY state prison guards are paid as if the prisons are in metro New York, but only two of them actually are — the women’s facility portrayed in Orange is the New Black and the prison formerly known as Sing Sing. And even these facilities are located near low-cost Upstate NY, allowing prison guards to live cheaper by driving a little longer.

The mean March 2017 payroll per New York State government Corrections employee, multiplied by 12, was $71,766.  It is going up faster than inflation, by 7.6% from 2007 and by 15.9% since 1997.  New York’s state prison personnel are paid slightly more than those in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts and far more than those in Pennsylvania and Vermont.  The highest paid state prison personnel are in California, with an average of $87,844 – up just 0.5% from 2007 but up 25.4% from 1997.

Most of New York’s excess corrections employment is at the local government level, and it is concentrated in New York City.


Within New York State, the Downstate Suburbs and Upstate Urban Counties have more local government Corrections employees per 100,000 residents than the U.S. average, but not much more.   This could perhaps be explained by the fact that in some states there is no local government Corrections employment, and this brings the U.S. average for local government down.  But New York City’s local government Corrections employment, at 158 corrections workers per 100,000 residents, is far above the U.S. average of 81.  The Rest of New York State is also relatively high at 127.

New York City’s local government Corrections employment is higher than some of the counties that contain (or are co-terminus with) other major and significant older cities, but not all of them.  Remember that Washington DC has no state government, so that is actually the state and local government total for the District.  San Francisco, Miami Dade, St. Louis City, Philadelphia, and Travis County, Texas (Austin) are close to NYC.  Los Angeles County, Cook County (Chicago) and Harris County (Houston) are much lower.

The Downstate Suburbs have more local government Corrections workers per 100,000 residents, on average, than any of the affluent suburban counties I managed to tabulate.  Even excluding those in states like Connecticut and Massachusetts, where the state government runs the jails.

Chart2b-pAlthough it remains relatively high, New York City local government Corrections employment has fallen more significantly over the past 20 years, per 100,000 residents, than New York state government Corrections employment.


The decrease was from 193 NYC Corrections workers per 100,000 residents in March 1997, to 165 in March 2007, to 158 in March 2017, tracking the decrease in crime.  The 20.2% decrease for NYC, relative to population, from 1997 to 2017 is in contrast with a 4.3% increase for the U.S. as a whole, a mere 2.0% decrease for the Downstate Suburbs, a 5.2% decrease for the Upstate Urban Counties, and a 61.1% increase for the Rest off New York State.  New Jersey’s local government Corrections employment fell 9.2% over 20 years and that of Massachusetts disappeared completely, as the state government took over county functions.  But there were increases in some states around the country.

In addition to being relatively high in number, NYC’s jailers are very well paid.  While the mean earnings per private sector worker in metro New York was 21.4% above the average, the mean March payroll per NYC Corrections worker was 44.6% above the U.S. average, and well above the average for other parts of the state.  Of course NYC corrections officers would argue that they have to deal with a more violent population, and thus have a tougher job than the average jailer.

The New York City Corrections Department, its supposed failures, and the push to close the jail complex at Rikers Island, is the hot button issue of the moment.  I agree that it may make sense to locate jails closer to the courts, to reduce transportation costs, and to find ways to reduce the number of officers in New York’s jails further, since the city’s Corrections employment is relatively high.  And that most people’s objections to the plan to open four local jails is just NIMBY, just as it was with Mayor Bloomberg’s push to force each borough to deal with its own garbage.

Even so, I have come to believe this whole push to close Rikers is a con job with a hidden agenda.

An agenda involving real estate and massive subsidies for the private construction industry and its underfunded, retroactively enriched, union pensions.   No one dares ask questions because they’d be shouted down as racists, non-progressives, Trump supporters, etc.  And there is a desperate push to get the whole thing approved and the money spent before anyone asks those questions.

Start with the cost of the four jails.   The City of New York, which (like the State of New York) has invested virtually nothing in the MTA capital plan since the early 1990s, resulting in deferred maintenance and a huge share of the agency’s revenues going to debt and pensions, plans to blow $11 billionon four jails.  One of which, presumably the largest, is already built, and only has to be rehabbed – the one in Brooklyn.  New York City, from what I have read, has an average of 7,800 prisoners. That means the city plans to spend $1.41 million per prisoneron the new jails.  Except that the new jails wouldn’t be able to accommodate 7,800 prisoners.  Only 4,000. Which means that cost is $2.75 million per prisoner.

Why has no one questioned this?  Are the prisoners each expected to have their own luxury suite with gold toilet seats?  Or is much of this money really supposed to go somewhere else?  Like here.

Borrowing that money, forcing future generations of New Yorkers to pay it back even as the transportation system rots away – and don’t kid yourself, the “Fast Forward” plan is unfunded after five years despite congestion pricing, which will be bonded against – is apparently “progressive.”

Second, if the goal is to allow the prisoners be walked over to the jails rather than bussed, why are there four jails and not five?  Why is there no jail on Staten Island?

Too few prisoners to bother?  It is a borough of 500,000 people!  You want to tell me that other cities of that size are too small for their own jails?  That other New York State counties outside NYC don’t have their own jails?  Onondaga County, which includes Syracuse, has about 465,400 people.  Its 265 local government Corrections workers amounted to 58 per 100,000 county residents, about one third the ratio for NYC, so it seems a jail for a borough that size could be plenty efficient.

Third, one of the other progressive “reforms” associated with closing Rikers is ending solitary confinement, so prisoners who act out, perhaps violently, are treated no differently than those who don’t. But the NYC corrections department and its officers want some way to punish those who act violently.  So how about this?  There is presumably one building on Rikers Island that is in better shape than the others.  Why not retain it?  If prisoners behave well, they are kept close to home, but if they don’t they are sent to the island.

What’s wrong with that?  Why the desperate push to prohibit any use of Rikers Island for any jail facilities before any public debate on the topic.  Is it because the real estate industry doesn’t want even one small prison on its private luxury island, connected directly to Manhattan by DeBlasio’s highly-subsidized luxury ferries and private SUVs?

This whole thing reminds me of the deal to sell off all of the city of Chicago’s future parking revenues to Wall Street.  That was green-washed to ideological yahoos on the left as forcing market pricing on environmentally destructive automobiles, and $green-washed to ideological yahoos on the right as privatizing government.  But the real agenda was for Richard Dailey, his cronies, and his generation to cash in the city’s future revenues to party with the money now, all while selling off that future at an enormous discount to Wall Street and the rich.

All this “progressive stuff” is about the engineering of consent. I’ll think otherwise when it’s five new jails for $4 billion or less, with one retained at Rikers for overflow space and those who act out violently elsewhere, and no selling off Rikers Island to developers.  Just leasing it out for solar panels, using it to house the homeless, or some other public purpose.

I saw the PBS documentary on Rikers Island.

What it showed has happened isn’t what they want you to feel has happened.

From what I saw, most of the violence there is committed by prisoners against other prisoners.  Some of it is committed by prisoners against corrections officers.  It is these prisoners advocates of closing Rikers seem to believe should be given more chances against the rest of us on the outside, before perhaps being sent upstate.

There are somecases of corrections officers committing acts of violence and abuse against the prisoners, for which the people of this city have paid dearly. That is wrong, and needs to be stopped.  Another self-serving union, the one Ed Koch described as the most irresponsible of all.

But the buildings didn’t attack anyone.  The problems at Rikers have nothing to do with the buildings.  Why is the whole reform about the buildings?

In the worse miscarriage of justice shown, one endlessly referred to, a young man was arrested merely for stealing a back pack, and yet was held for three years without charge, and then released without a trial.  He then committed suicide.

This is an outrage.  But whose outrage?  The less-educated, low-status corrections officers?  Or the highly-educated, politically connected prosecutors and judges?  Why is it some are picked on, but others can’t be questioned?   Why does it take years for an accused criminal to be put on trial, rather than a month?  Why does no one question this?  Well, almost no one.

Are those who are the real cause of the problem of the accused spending long periods rotting in jail pushing to close Rikers to distract attention from themselves?

In any event, the next post will be on public Hospitals, Housing, and Social Services, and related substantially government-funded private sector industries.  And if one wants a picture of a couple of the tables in the spreadsheet for this post, they are here.

Public Safety employment-and-payroll-2017

2 thoughts on “Public Safety: Census of Governments Employment and Payroll Data for 2017

  1. Stevie

    Not just building, but running prisons too. In California, average inmate cost is $80000/yr, at least twice the national average, which is high enough. So California spending more on prisons than higher education. Despite falling prison populations and rising higher ed enrollment.

    A primary reason for excessive USA incarceration rates are prison sentences about 3-4x that of other developed world. Despite comparable crime rates (aside of course from America’s abnormally high gun violence). This simple fact proves that the lock ’em up and throw away the key mentality that was (and to some extent still) very prevalent here was unnecessarily expensive, counterproductive, and ineffective as a crime deterrent. Not to mention that many inmates really belong in mental institutions or drug rehab.

  2. larrylittlefield Post author

    So the approved plan is $8 billion for 3,300 prisoners. No one does the math and questions this.

    Assume 400 square feet of total space per prisoner, far more than most New Yorkers get in their homes. (The standard is 75 square feet per prisoner for cells). That means 1.32 million square feet of space is needed.

    At $8 billion, they are going to charge us $6,061 per square foot for construction, not including any land cost — since the city already owns the sites!

    A new report released by the New York Building Congress points to a concentration of work in the office, luxury multifamily and infrastructure sectors as part of the reason for rising costs. According to data from Rider Levett Bucknall, the average cost of building office space is $575 per square foot in New York, while multifamily construction costs an average of $375 per square foot. The cost of building office projects in the city is the highest in the country, passing up Boston ($475), Chicago ($450), Washington D.C. ($425 per square foot), Los Angeles ($350), San Francisco ($330) and Denver ($255).

    That’s $375 per square foot for luxury multifamily. Double it, triple it, quadruple it for these jails, and ask where is the rest of the money going?

    Remember that when money is not available for other things. Notably transit, or street safety investments.

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