How Much Do Los Angeles Police Officers Make?

There’s a deep seated frustration and anger among the rank and file due to their low pay.
Det. Tyler Izen – President, Los Angeles Police Protective League, July 28, 2014, KTLA Channel 5

Low pay, of course, is relative. It’s very difficult to objectively determine what a police officer should be paid. There aren’t jobs in the private sector that are easily compared to police work. As a result, police officers typically compare how much they are making in their city to how much other cities are paying their police officers. The problem is no city wants to pay the lowest rates, which creates endless rounds of wage and benefit increases. But a city as big as Los Angeles doesn’t have the option of matching what a much wealthier, much smaller city may pay. Too many billions are involved.

Despite the difficulty in determining what may be a fair rate of pay and benefits for police officers, this very sensitive debate has to be waged. Because without debate, there can be no limit – how do you put a price on safety and security? How do you put a price on enduring the stress and the dangers that come with police work? You can’t. In that context, a fair wage will always be far more than any public institution can possibly afford.

Calculating Average Total Compensation for LAPD Officers

So how much do Los Angeles police officers make? This information is not easily found. Every year California’s cities are required to report to the state controller the individual pay and benefits for all of their employees. The most recent 2012 raw data for cities can be downloaded here. The information can be sorted by city, then by department. Within police departments, by sorting records by the reported pension benefit formulas, sworn officers can be differentiated from administrative police personnel. There is even sufficient data to eliminate records for officers who have not worked the full 12 months in the year being analyzed. Using all of these techniques, we were able to determine that the average LAPD pay and benefits during 2012 for full time sworn officers was $110,285. But the state controller’s numbers are grossly understated because they don’t include how much the City of Los Angeles paid for retiree health benefits or retiree pensions. This adds a significant amount to their actual total pay. Funding these benefits are part of any employee’s total compensation package.

How can that information be obtained for Los Angeles police?

If you review the Actuarial Valuation and Review Of Retirement and Other Postemployment Benefits as of June 30, 2013, performed by Segal Consulting Group for the City of Los Angeles Fire and Police Protection Plan, there is some pretty good information available. Exhibit B in the beginning of the document shows the retirement fund contribution rates as a percent of eligible payroll. The pension contribution last year was 37.82% of base pay, and the retirement health care contribution was 11.69% of base pay. An expert at the LAFPP office confirmed that these percentages exclusively represent the employer contribution and do not include amounts withheld from employee paychecks which are also contributed to their retirement funds. Therefore, the total of those percentages, 49.51%, can be applied to to the average LAPD base salary of $94,660 and apportioned per employee to accurately represent, on average, how much they are making in retirement benefits. As it is, that equates to $59,491 per year – meaning that the average total compensation for LAPD officers is actually $157,151.

LAPD Retirement Payments Affected by Investment Returns

It doesn’t end there, however. If the LAPD retirement systems fail to achieve forecast investment results, the amounts currently being paid by the employer – already nearly 50% of base pay – will have to increase. According to the Segal Report (Exhibit III, page 59), as of 6/30/2013 there were assets of $14.6 billion set aside for retirement pension liabilities estimated – using a discount rate of 7.75% – to have a present value of $17.6 billion, leaving a $2.6 billion unfunded liability. How confident can the LAFPP be that they will be able to grow a $14.6 billion fund at a rate of 7.75% per year? Using formulas provided for this purpose by Moody’s Investor Services, if you lower that annual projected earnings rate just a little, to a still very healthy 7.0%, the unfunded liability grows to $4.65 billion; at projected annual earnings of 6.2%, which represents the historical earnings rate of U.S. equities (including dividend reinvestment), the unfunded liability grows to $6.62 billion. And at the less risky 5.0% annual earnings rate of top grade corporate bonds, that liability grows to $10.1 billion.

In plain English – the unfunded liability for the LAPD pension fund could quadruple if the fund earns 5.0% per year instead of 7.75%. Just dropping the rate of earnings to 6.2% nearly triples the unfunded liability.

And it gets worse. The pension plan – officially analyzed at what some of us would consider to be a ridiculously optimistic annual 7.75% rate of return assumption, has a “funded ratio” of 83.2%. That should still alarm us, actually, because only 100% qualifies as fully funded, but 83.2% is a better ratio than most public employee pension funds out there. The other fund managed by LAFPP, however, for retirement health care, is only 38.5% funded (Segal Report, Valuation Results, Health Plan, page 4), although it is a much smaller fund – it’s officially recognized unfunded liability is “only” $1.6 billion.

There may be a lot of deep financial concepts and arguments in play here, but unfortunately, it’s not mere gibberish. There are real world consequences and tough decisions signified by these numbers. The city of Los Angeles is going to have to put more into these retirement funds then they already are, or they are going to have to cut benefits.

What Criteria: Comparable Pay, Affordable Pay, or Appropriate Pay?

If you look around Southern California it isn’t hard to find cities who pay their police officers more than LAPD. The California Policy Center compiled 2011 and 2012 data for a few cities in Orange County and here are some of the numbers they found for average annual total compensation for their police: Irvine, $168,336; Anaheim, $170.866; Costa Mesa, $181,709. One may reliably surmise that immediate neighbors such as the city of Beverly Hills also pay their police more than Los Angeles – and herein lies an irony that will justifiably grate on any officer of a large city like Los Angeles: The wealthy cities have less crime, but can afford to pay more to their police. But are the LAPD receiving low pay, or are the police in these other cities overpaid?

Moreover, there is a converse to this point – small cities cannot possibly absorb and employee thousands of police leaving because they want to earn more money.

Which returns us to the difficult question – is an average pay package of $157,151 really “low pay?” Beyond what rate of pay may be comparable or affordable, what is appropriate? Bear in mind the average LAPD overtime earned per officer, as reported in the 2012 data, was $1,691, which means that most LAPD officers are working the 4-10 or 3-12 shifts and not much more. According to an official summary of LAPD benefits, they also get 13 holidays, and three weeks vacation as rookies, which increases to 4.6 weeks after ten years. And for all those contributions to their retirement benefits, after 30 years work the average LAPD officer can expect to retire with a pension and health insurance package worth between $90K and $100K per year (ref. Evaluating Public Safety Pensions in California, CPC, April 2014).

One of the most significant reasons the City of Los Angeles faces financial challenges is because personnel costs – for all departments – increased year after year, thanks to the power of collective bargaining. But was this appropriate? During the lean years after the internet bubble popped, and again after the real estate bubble popped, people in the private sector felt lucky to have jobs. Meanwhile, in the public sector, year after year, annual cost-of-living adjustments kept being awarded. And even in cases where, finally, cost of living increases were suspended due to financial constraints, “step increases” and “longevity pay” and other annual pay hikes continued per labor agreements. Worse still, the pension funds and retirement health care funds, which appeared to be flush during the bubble years, have now revealed themselves to be in serious trouble. When comparing their pay to what other cities pay, LAPD officers, and all public employees, ought to also compare their rates of pay to what private citizens have experienced. Making $157,151 per year is a LOT of money in virtually any profession in America, including police work if you venture outside of California, New York, and a few other places where, arguably, public employee unions have taken over their local governments.

When confronting the continuous risk and inevitable tragedies that befall police officers, no amount of money will ever be enough. But the Los Angeles Police Protective League, and other public and private unions, should consider the deeper cause of middle class struggle, which is the artificially high cost of living in California. Despite well crafted arguments to the contrary, there is plenty of land and almost limitless conventional energy in California. And if the alfalfa farmers in the Mojave Desert were permitted to sell their water allotments to the LADWP, there wouldn’t be a residential water shortage even in this tough year. Taxes in California are among the highest in the nation, and taxes are driven primarily by public sector personnel costs, along with the costs for an unreformed welfare system that gives California the dubious distinction of having 12% of the nation’s population but 30% of its welfare recipients. Failed immigration policies further strain the system. Public employees could afford to make less, a lot less, and live better, if these needless hindrances to California’s prosperity were corrected.

Along with protecting one of the greatest cities in the world, and hopefully participating constructively in a tough debate over whether or not their compensation is appropriate and affordable – LA’s finest should consider the deeper roots of the economic hardships we share together, and how to engage on those fronts for the good of everyone.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

24 replies
  1. Chris says:

    Hmm. There’s a lot of questionable information being thrown out in this article. As a LAPD patrol cop, I don’t know any patrol officer who average that much. I have my all w2s, to prove I didn’t receive half of the supposed “average salary” in the last 5 years. I’m sure all patrol officers could do the same. In fact, I have worked 500 hours and did not get compensated for it. It’s in a time off bank. I can not open the link provided in the article but I question if they included Sgts/Dets and above rank in this police officer “average salary.”

  2. Tough Love says:

    Mentioned, but not discussed in detail is that PUBLIC Sector compensation should rightfully be compared to what a job with similar ricks and requirements would pay in the PRIVATE Sector (not just in other PUBLIC Sector cities).

    When THAT comparison is properly made, the EXTREME overcompensation of PUBLIC Sector workers (police in the following detailed mathematical work-up) is VERY clear ….. with a pension 4.62 TIMES greater their PRIVATE Sector counterpart:
    ________________________________________________

    In California the typical recent Pubic Safety retiree’s pension starts at just about $100,000 and is COLA adjusted thereafter. By looking at a table of life annuity factors, such a single life immediate annuity has a value or cost upon retirement of just about $1.8 Million (18 times the annual pension). One way to judge if that is reasonable (or “appropriate and fair”) is to answer the question … What would be the necessary INCOME LEVEL (or Final Average Salary … FAS) of a Private Sector worker with the TYPICAL Private Sector DB pension (for the few Private Sector workers lucky enough to still be covered by such a pensions) to obtain a pension from his/her employer with the SAME $1.8 Million “value” upon retirement ?

    Assume the CA safety worker has the typical 3% of final average pay per-year-of-service pension factor, had a final average salary of $111,111, 30 years of service and retired at age 55… resulting in the starting pension of $111,111 x .03 x 30 = $100,000. Next, let’s assume the Private Sector worker’s DB pension formula is 1.25% per year of service (a quite typical formula), is NOT COLA adjusted (routine in PRIVATE Sector Plans), and has a full unreduced retirement age of 62 (with a 4% reduction in pension payout for each year of age that you retire begin collecting your pension before age 62).

    For a given Final Average Salary (FAS), this Private Sector worker’s annual pension (P) is given by the formula P = (FAS x 30 x .0125)x (1-((62-55)x.04)), with the latter part of that formula being the adjustment for early retirement at age 55. Shortening that formula, we have P = (FAS x 30 x .0125) x 0.72.

    From above, we saw that the Safety worker’s pension (being COLA-increased) has a lump sum “value” of 18 times the annual STARTING pension. With no COLA increases, the lump sum “value” is only 13 times the annual pension. Therefore the Lump Sum “value” of the Private Sector worker’s pension is given by 13 x P, and since we are SETTING that value equal to the $1.8 Million value of the safety worker’s pension we have $1,800,000 = 13 x P, and solving for P, we have P= $1,800,000/13 = $138,462. This Private Sector non-COLA-increased annual pension of $138,462 can be looked at as being mathematically equivalent to an otherwise identical pension starting at $100,000 that includes 3% annual COLA increases (i.e., the Safety worker’s pension).

    Now since we know the annual Private Sector worker’s annual pension “P”, we can plug it into my above formula of P = (FAS x 30 x .0125) x 0.72 to solve for FAS. Doing so we have, $138,462 = (FAS x 30 x .0125) x 0.72, from which

    FAS = $138,462/(30 x 0.0125 x 0.72) = $512,822

    What this shows is that a Private Sector worker (with a TYPICAL DB pension formula and provisions) would need to have a final average salary of $512,812 to generate a pension from his/her employer with the SAME $1.8 Million “value” as the TYPICAL Safety worker pension …. or $512,822/$111,111 = 4.62 times the Safety worker’s salary.

    And for the skeptics that say …. this can’t be correct …. we can just reverse the order of calculations and SHOW that this $512,822 PRIVATE Sector salary is indeed necessary to generate a pension with a “value” equal to that (the $1.8 Million) of the Public Sector Safety worker … as follows:

    (a) Private Sector worker’s Annual (non-COLA-increased) pension = $512,822 x 30 x 0.0125 x .72 = $138,462
    (b) Lump sum value (using the 13 times life annuity factor applicable to non-COLA-increased pensions) = $138.462 x 13 = $1.8 Million

    While most reasonable people would suggest that (give the nature of the occupations) Safety workers should receive pensions equivalent to Private Sector workers with salaries say 10% or 25% or 50% greater than they, I find it incredulous to believe that ANYONE would feel it appropriate to provide the TYPICAL CA Safety worker retiree with a pension equivalent to that of the Private Sector worker making over $500,000 annually. Taxpayers (who pay for all but the 10-20% of Total Coat Public Sector pensions typically paid for by the worker’s own contributions and the investment earnings thereon) simply cannot afford anything even remotely close to this level of generosity.

    And to preemptively address the anticipated comeback ………… the 4.62 times greater CA safety pension is NOT a function of the Officer’s final pay. It would remain 4.62% even if the officer’s final pay (and hence starting pension) were 10%, 20% or even 50% lower.

    The 4.62 time greater CA Safety worker pension results from the MUCH richer Formula and MUCH more generous “provisions” as follows:

    (1) Benefit from the richer “formula” of 3% vs 1.25% = 3.00/1.25= 2.40 greater
    (2) Benefit from only the CA safety worker getting COLA increases = 18/13 = 1.3846
    (3) Benefit from no CA Safety worker pension reduction for full (unreduced) retirement at age 55 = 1.00/0.72 = 1.3889

    The above beneficial ratios are multiplicative, giving the overall advantage of 2.40 x 1.3846 x 1.3889 = 4.62 times.

  3. Tough Love says:

    Making the rounds here-too I see…..

    “Douglas47 says:” = Self-interested Public Sector worker/retiree participating in this Public Sector pension/benefit “pig-fest” (at Taxpayers expense) and not wanting it to end.

  4. Douglas47 says:

    Illogical

    A self interested retiree would want to put all new employees (and current employees going forward) on a DC plan. The money saved could be used to cover the unfunded liabilities.

    “I got mine!!!”

  5. Tough Love says:

    Your pension and your retiree healthcare benefits will most certainly be reduced well before you expire.

  6. SDouglas47 says:

    We???

    I wasn’t planning on working in New Jersey.

    Actually, my old boss has asked me several times to come back as a retired annuitant. Its worth considering.

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