Most members of law enforcement agree they don’t do their job for money. Instead, they often find person reasons to be satisfied in their public service role.
Yet not every department pays its officers the same in the Mohawk Valley, and that difference can occasionally lead to discouragement and frustration among the lower-paid departments.
In both Oneida and Herkimer counties, most officers overall earn less than the state average of $68,510.
According to a GateHouse New York analysis:
• At the Rome Police Department, for instance, more than 50 percent of its officers earned from $61,000 to $80,000 over the past year, the highest in Oneida County, according to data compiled on SeeThroughNY.com.
• At the Herkimer Police Department, most officers earned between $51,000 and $65,000, the highest in Herkimer County and similar to what most officers earned in Utica’s larger department, between $56,000 and $60,000.
• At smaller agencies such as the Oriskany, Vernon, Boonville and Yorkville police departments, only a few officers earned upwards of $50,000.
“I think it all boils down to, at the end of the day, what you did for eight hours and how you did it, instead of saying I got away with doing nothing and I got paid for it,” said Yorkville police Officer Patrick Collea, after 18 years in law enforcement.
“I agreed to work in the village of Yorkville,” he said. “How can you put a price on someone who writes a Thank You note because you solved a break-in at their house, or because you helped push their car out of the driveway when it was stuck in the snow?”
Still, the pay disparity between neighboring police agencies can create its own set of concerns, especially the frustration over constantly losing newly trained officers to higher-paying agencies like the New York State Police.
“It’s tough to justify when people go through the same level of training and have the same responsibilities, that there’s such a difference in the amount that they’re paid,” Oneida County Undersheriff Robert Swenszkowski said. “You have to balance out what people are making in comparison with agencies that provide the same level of service and the same call volume.”
According to SeeThroughNY.com, longtime investigators at the Oneida Sheriff’s Office make just more than $60,000 — significantly less than the $100,000-plus earned by some state police investigators.
While none of the police officials have said their officers are underpaid, the county’s top prosecutor believes that is the case.
Because police carry a lot of responsibility that can often mean the difference between life and death, Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara said officers should be compensated appropriately for the high standards and skills that are expected of them.
Page 2 of 3 - “They have to wear a gun to protect themselves,” McNamara said. “They have to have a lot of training and an incredible level of knowledge of the law. And they’re not allowed to make mistakes, because if they make a mistake evidence can be suppressed and they’re subject to being sued.”
One of the lowest-paying agencies is the Frankfort Village Police Department, where only three full-time officers and its chief earned between $36,000 and $50,000. The other 11 officers all work part-time, at less than $12 an hour.
This is especially dispiriting whenever village officers have to call for backup from the nearby Frankfort Town Police Department, where its part-time officers make a few dollars more per hour yet do essentially the same work, village police Chief Ronald Petrie said.
The bigger concern, however, is that the village department often can’t hang onto its officers any longer than it takes to train them — a time consuming and costly commitment, Petrie said.
That means often being staffed with officers who lack the knowledge and skills of more seasoned officers, he said.
“The problem we have is we’re a training ground for people to get the foot in the door for law enforcement,” Petrie said. “I’ve been able to get decent, qualified guys that want to work here and get their training, but once they get an opportunity for full-time work somewhere else, you can’t knock them for that. As of late, though, the revolving door has been going a bit quicker because other agencies like Utica and the state police have been soaking up quite a few officers, and that kind of left a void in the smaller municipalities.”
The “revolving door” also is a problem in higher-paid departments such as Rome’s, police Chief Kevin Beach said.
Although many of Rome’s officers last year were compensated higher than some in New Hartford and Utica, Beach said his department still feels the bite when it loses officers it invested time and money into.
Many officers seize the chance to join New York State Police, since troopers make more than $71,000 after one year and then nearly $85,000 after five years.
There’s no way smaller police departments can compete with that pay scale, so Rome police officials have been discussing whether union contracts should be negotiated to allow the municipality to recover training costs from officers who leave the department too soon, Beach said.
“I do think it would be a benefit for any department that tried to recoup some of the costs when we hire and lose officers to other departments,” Beach said. “It’s a concern for the department not having as many experienced officers out there, if you continue to lose officers that have only a few years.”
Page 3 of 3 - The head of the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police, however, said he doesn’t hear much “grumbling” about the pay disparity among officers.
“Everybody knows what the salary structure is when they get into this job,” said Executive Director John Grebert, a retired Colonie police chief. “If you’re not happy with the compensation you’re getting in your current job, then it’s really up to the individual to better his situation.”