Average pay for California's rank-and-file police officers and firefighters continued to rise significantly in 2015, as many cities across the state compete with each other for the best talent.
California police officers made, on average, $111,800 during 2015, according to a Sacramento Bee analysis of new data from the State Controller's Office. That figure reflects base pay, as well as overtime, incentive pay and payouts upon retirement.
Firefighters and engineers earned, on average, $134,400. Average pay for police lieutenants across the state was $161,400; for fire captains, it was $153,300.
Excluding overtime, vacation payouts and bonuses, average pay for police officers in 2014 was $85,400 and for firefighters was $84,600.
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Use this database to see the average pay for firefighters, police officers and their supervisors in nearly every California city and county. Updated October 2016 with 2015 data.
Police pay is significantly higher in urban areas than in rural parts of the state, likely due to cost of living and intense competitions for the best officers. Police officers in Santa Clara tend to make the most - about $143,000 on average - while officers in Modoc and Lassen counties average less than $60,000 in pay.
Average police officer pay
The same trend is even more pronounced among firefighters. In six rural counties, firefighters average less than $60,000 in total pay. In Los Angeles and Alameda counties, by contrast, firefighters average more than $150,000 in total pay.
Average firefighter pay
Notes: Average pay is calculated using total wages during 2015 subject to Medicare taxes as reported in Box 5 of each employee’s W-2. The amounts listed may include, but are not limited to, wages, overtime, cash payments for vacation and sick leave, and bonus payments.
The Controller's Office data show actual pay for all employees, including those who only worked part-time or for part of the year. To avoid part-timers skewing the numbers, The Bee removed from its calculation any employee who earned less than $25,000 during 2015 or who earned at least $2,000 less than the minimum posted salary for his or her position.
The state's police and fire departments don't classify employees in a uniform manner. To find the average salary for police officers, The Bee looked at police and sheriff's department employees with the word "officer" in their job title, excluding code enforcement officers, animal control officers and supervisors. (For sheriff's department's, The Bee looked for deputies, instead of officers.) Average salary for rank-and-file firefighters includes employees with "firefighter" or "engineer" in their job title. "Captains," "lieutenants" and "chiefs" were isolated by looking for those words in their job titles.
For fire and police chiefs, some departments employed more than one chief in the course of the year. In those cases, The Bee used the salary of the chief with the highest reported earnings for the year. If you see a chief's salary that looks particularly low, it's possible that chief only worked part of the year.
Since cashouts for unused sick leave and vacation upon retirement are often large, a department with a high number of retirements during 2015 will tend to show higher average pay. Vacation and sick leave payouts generally don't count toward pension calculations.
Fire captains and police lieutenants do not have comparable jobs.
Source: State Controller's Office
To search pay for all municipal employees in the Sacramento region, go here.