California police officers and sheriff’s deputies received, on average, about $122,000 in total pay during 2017, according to a Sacramento Bee analysis of new data from the State Controller’s Office.
Firefighters and engineers earned, on average, about $146,000 in total pay during 2017. Those figure reflects base pay, as well as overtime, incentive pay and payouts upon retirement.
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Rank-and-file public safety workers have seen their paychecks enhanced by an increase in overtime pay, according to a Bee report in August. Hiring managers across the state also said in that story that competition for new hires during a robust economy is intense.
Police officers earned, on average, about $91,000 in regular pay, another $20,000 in overtime and about $11,000 in other pay during 2017.
Firefighters earned, on average, a similar amount in regular pay – $91,000 – but they also earned about $42,000 in overtime and $13,000 in other pay.
Police pay is significantly higher in urban areas than in rural parts of the state, likely due to cost of living and competition for the best officers. Police officers in Santa Clara County made the most on average – about $157,000 – while officers in a few rural counties averaged less than $70,000 in pay.
The same trend exists among firefighters. In a few rural counties, firefighters averaged less than $70,000 in total pay. In Contra Costa and San Mateo counties, by contrast, firefighters averaged almost $170,000.
How we crunched these numbers
Average pay is calculated using total wages during 2017 subject to Medicare taxes as reported in Box 5 of the 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 police officer who earned less than $30,000 and firefighter who earned less than $40,000 during 2017 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 departments, 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.
Since cashouts for unused sick leave and vacation upon retirement are often large, a department with a high number of retirements during 2017 will tend to show higher average pay. Vacation and sick leave payouts generally don’t count toward pension calculations.
Some agencies did not report data to the State Controller’s Office.