If you are looking to get rich on a cop salary, you are in the wrong business. Most applicants who wish to join the police force do so because they see it as a calling, and they truly wish to protect and serve. Others see it as a proud continuation of an illustrious family tradition of being a cop, and in some cases the tradition involves three or more generations of police officers. Some see it as a way to gain prestige and respect, and there are even those who believe that being a police officer can improve their romantic lives, since police officers are seen as special by others in the community.
Still, everyone has to eat, and as an applicant you need to be aware of what you can expect from a policeman salary. However, research on this subject has been erratic due to the sheer number of police and sheriff’s departments in the country. While you can ask for information regarding salary by asking the police department, obtaining precise and up to date figures from all police departments is far more time-consuming and difficult. Many surveys have been conducted, and the results have not been consistent with one another.
In addition, there are many factors which determine salary of a police officer. Even the lack of unanimity regarding the status of transit and railroad police as well as fish and game wardens can affect the computation for the average police officer salary. There is a police officer pay scale depending on the rank attained by the police officer. The state police salary average may also differ significantly from one another, due to a state’s cost of living expenses and budget for police officers.
Median Salaries for Different Types of Law Enforcement Officers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for police and detectives was $56,980 in May 2012. The median is the point where half of the police earned more than the median while the other half earned less. The tip 10% highest earners drew a salary of more than $93,450. The lowest earners, on the other hand, earned less than $33,060 per year.
- The median wage for police and sheriff’s patrol officers is $55,270. However, a more recent report filed by Salary.com pegged this amount at $51,892 for 2014.
- Detectives and criminal investigators earn a median wage of $74,300. Detectives are a special class of officers tasked to investigate crimes. They are usually required to have at least a year of active service on the force, and they usually have some college experience as well. Often, they are also required to pass an aptitude exam.
- SWAT officers are another form of special police officers. They are tasked with the most dangerous duties involving heavily armed or dangerous criminals, and they are usually the ones involved when suspects have barricaded themselves or have taken hostages. The average salary of a SWAT officer is $89,250. The SWAT police officer starting salary is $73,500 on average but the most senior officers can earn an average of $105,000.
- Transit and railroad police earn a median wage of $55,210.
- The median wage for fish and game wardens is $48,070
The Median Salaries of Police Officers according to Rank
The police department resembles a military institution, as members attain different ranks depending on seniority, test scores, and performance evaluations. The median annual salaries for the different ranks in 2008 are:
- Police Chief – $90,570 per year. A police chief may also be called a police commissioner, but in large cities these may be two different positions. In general, a commissioner handles public policy, public relations and the budget while the chief oversees staff and operation management.
- Deputy Chief – $74,834 per year. A deputy chief assists the chief in covering all the responsibilities of the top position.
- Police Captain – $72,761 per year. Captains are required to have a bachelor’s degree at the very least, and they usually have ten to fifteen years of active work experience in the force. Usually, a captain will head a major department or division of the force, such as organized crime, gang activity, vice, or sexual assault. Sometimes they are in charge of an entire precinct with different divisions. To be a captain, you would have to score extremely well on aptitude tests, have a distinguished record, and receive exemplary performance reviews throughout your career.
- Police Lieutenant – $65,688 per year. A lieutenant is usually in charge of a small group of police officers or investigators. It usually takes at least 6 or 7 years in the force to attain this rank, and you need superior reviews and excellent test scores. Your duties may be mainly administrative, but you may work on the field when the situation requires it.
- Police Sergeant – $58,739 per year. You usually need 5 years in the force before you can attain this rank, and you may need some college credits or an associate’s degree. Sergeants often serve as shift watch commander or assistant shift watch commander.
- Police Corporal – $49,421 per year. This rank may have a different name depending on the police department, but it usually refers to the lowest ranks in the force. The lowest rank is the probationary officer who attains the next rank in this range after the probationary period. If there is a third rank, you will need good performance reviews to advance.
Police Salaries according to State
Where you are serving as a police officer will also determine your police salary. Here is a sample of median salaries in a few states. Keep in mind that within a state, police departments in different towns and cities can have different pay scales.
- California – $70,773
- Washington – $62,400
- Illinois – $47,917
- Texas – $44,998
- Florida – $40,695
- North Carolina – $37,054
- Georgia – $36,493
Most policed departments also offer excellent health benefits. They also offer overtime opportunity, and paid and sick leave are available.
In the end, the salary consideration is still far down the list of what’s important for a true police officer. The opportunity to protect and serve the public is the most important factor of all.