Analysis: A Tale of Two Hiring Processes Illustrates Davis’ Problem


Davis-Police-DepartmentAn editorial in the local paper today laments the lack of applicants interested in three open positions for police officers in Davis.  Notes the paper, “The police had expected 25 to 30 applicants for the three openings at their agility testing last Saturday, but only 11 people showed up. And that number was expected to dwindle by the time the written test was administered later that day.”

That pales in comparison to what happened at the much criticized open recruiting for the Firefighter I position in December, where over 300 individuals lined up in the freezing cold, some of them for multiple days, to become one of 125 applicants to get a written test following the acceptance of their application.

City and law enforcement officials are concerned about the potential for a rising number of crimes.

Notes the editorial, “Davis needs smart, enthusiastic and fit young police officers just as much as it needs the same in its applicants for firefighter positions. But our city’s contracts for those two public safety jobs are way out of whack — with the firefighters having negotiated a much sweeter deal than the police officers over the past decade or so.”

Back in May of 2009, the Vanguard wrote an article entitled Why Do Firefighters Make Substantially More Than Police Officers in Davis?.

As we reported back in March 2013, that discrepancy persists.  According to city records, a firefighter in the city of Davis makes $7,748.10 per month in salary, while the police officer makes $6,752.37 per month in salary.

The gap emerged a decade ago, as the editorial references.  In 2005, the firefighters signed a four-year agreement that would give them a whopping 36% salary increase.  That does not include overtime, pensions, health insurance or any benefits; that is a straight salary increase, including a 10% salary increase in 2005.

The police, on the other hand, got a much more modest 18% pay increase including a 6% pay increase in 2006 to 2007.

The problem that the city now faces is that its compensation for firefighters is near the top in comparable communities, while their police counterparts received less than both average and median income and total compensation.  Only Sacramento and West Sacramento police received less among cities.

In an analysis the Vanguard did last April, we saw that, on the fire side, the typical firefighter makes $7044 per month in salary and $9536 in total compensation.  That is about $300 more than the mean and nearly $400 more than the median of the other departments.  It is total compensation that really pushes the city’s firefighters over the top, by nearly $700 more than the mean and nearly $800 more than the median.

While Davis is 5.1% above mean on salary, they are 7.4% above mean on total compensation and 9% above median.

On the other hand, the comparison shows that fire within the city of Davis makes over $1000 more per month in total compensation than their police counterparts.  The city of Davis is 1.2% below median on salary for police officers, but 5.7% below total compensation for police officers.

The city of Davis is third highest for firefighters’ salary and second highest for total compensation, just behind Fairfield and Vacaville.  However, on the police side, Davis is near the bottom on total compensation but above the median on salary.


Here is another illustration that shows where Davis is in comparison to other communities.

Fire Police BoxPlot

What we are learning is that there are policy implications for both policies.  On the fire side, the city has been able to attract enough applicants; in fact, so many applicants that it would appear that the city could reduce its total compensation and still end up with dozens of qualified applicants.

Certainly, UC Davis has no problem attracting qualified firefighters at more than $20,000 less per year and $47,000 less for management employees.

However, that discrepancy led to the dissolution of the fire merger in 2012.  The city narrowly agreed on a more modest shared management agreement in December.

When asked why he was not recommending a full merger, UC Davis Vice Chancellor John Meyer noted, “The culture of the rank and file firefighters is not rife for a full merger at this time. I don’t think you could get both labor groups to agree.”

“It would be a huge financial burden on the university to do a full merger at this point,” he said.

John Meyer added, “I don’t disagree by any means that that would be a best outcome. But I don’t think it can happen in one step. Without some of these interim steps, I don’t think the trust is built.”

In January of 2012, John Meyer “paused” the fire merger process, citing what he called a “significant compensation disparity” as a culprit.

“I am deeply concerned about the significant compensation disparity highlighted in the Citygate report,” he writes.  “The report suggests that UC Davis will increase its compensation in support of consolidation efforts. I believe such action would not be sustainable by UC Davis and should not be assumed in future planning.”

Now we see the other side of the coin.  Certainly, total compensation is not the only factor in the scarcity of applicants for police positions, but if you were a prospective police officer, why take on a challenging community like Davis, when the pay is not as good as surrounding communities?

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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56 thoughts on “Analysis: A Tale of Two Hiring Processes Illustrates Davis’ Problem”

  1. Mr. Toad

    Davis a challenging environment to be a police officer? i’m sure anyplace is a tough place to be a cop but on a relative scale aside from lower than average pay what makes Davis tougher than any other community of the same size in the region?

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      That’s what I’ve been told by several top officials in the police department. I think it’s a combination of things – Davis is not a high crime area, certainly not with a lot of violent crime, and so there is not a lot of action. At the same time, there is an active and engaged citizenry. It’s similar to how teachers describe dealing with Davis parents and city officials describe the climate dealing with citizens.

      1. Mr. Toad

        My friend went from teaching with me at a school in Fairfield to teaching in Davis and joked about how tough it was claiming if the kids were bad she would threaten to take away their sustained silent reading time.

        Being a cop anywhere is tough but Davis is not a bad place to be a cop.

        1. B. Nice

          I don’t think it’s the student that cause most of the problems for teachers in Davis, it’s their parents.

          I see how this translates to the police department, but if I had to choose between the negative consequences that come with an active and engaged citizenry, and putting my life at risk on a regular basis I’d go with option 1, and I’d be willing to be paid less to do so. So I’m surprised at the lack of interest shown in the open position.

      2. wdf1

        David Greenwald: At the same time, there is an active and engaged citizenry. It’s similar to how teachers describe dealing with Davis parents and city officials describe the climate dealing with citizens.

        That is a discouraging complaint to hear from public servants, that Davis is a challenging place because it has an active and engaged citizenry. Isn’t that how citizens are supposed to behave in an ideal world? Talk to neighbors, show up for neighbors night out in October so that we can get to know each other and keep an eye out for each other to help the police and fire dept. with crime and emergencies? Show up to CC and school board meetings when we have concerns, call somebody if we have complaints?

        And about teachers, yes, there is a different kind of pressure in Davis compared to other places, but shouldn’t that be a good kind of pressure? Have high expectations for our children and our schools? And the good side of it is that this community will go to bat for our teachers when times are tough.

        1. B. Nice

          WDF1- I agree with you that having an active engaged citizenry is good, but often the most active and engaged do not come to the table with a collaborative, problem-solving, solution based mind-set. They come to complain or push an agenda that best serves them, or in the case of schools, their child.

          I don’t think this reflects most of the citizens in this town, but I do think these people are disproportionally represented when we speak of the “engaged citizenry”

      3. Tia Will

        I don’t see this as a matter of difficulty dealing with either political faction. I see it as a difficulty in dealing with an intelligent, informed and opinionated citizenry across the political spectrum. As a police officer, just as with a doctor, I believe it would be easier to deal with a less opinionated and more compliant population. However, please note that I did not say that this would lead to better outcomes. I personally prefer to work with patients who are well informed rather than those who are medically uninformed, or worse yet misinformed by the likes of Jenny McCarthy. Some of the Davis police with whom I have spoken seem to prefer to work with an informed citizenry. Others, not so much so.

        1. growth issue

          Then you have those on the left that no matter what the police do it’s wrong. Some liberals have a deep seeded hate of the police and like to turn things into racism, police brutality, profiling, etc. (you name it) when it’s not the case. For these reasons I feel being a cop in Davis is a tough job. I think it comes down to biases more than cops having to deal with a more intelligent, informed and opinionated citizenry.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            I don’t understand the purpose of your post other than to stir things up. Contrary to what you think, I think the vast majority of police officers are good, honest, and hard working. The mistakes that occur and the “bad seeds” are in the vast minority of cases. There are a few people that may have very negative views of police officers, but they are the exception not the rule.

          2. Tia Will


            It seems to me from many of your posts that you may believe this because you automatially assume that when someone of a differnt political persuasion than you makes a criticism it must be because of their political ideology rather than because of an honest assessment of the facts before them.
            I believe that individuals of both political persuasions are capable of evidence based decision making, just as both are capable of knee jerk ideologic positioning.

          3. growth issue

            “It seems to me from many of your posts that you may believe this because you automatially assume that when someone of a differnt political persuasion than you makes a criticism it must be because of their political ideology rather than because of an honest assessment of the facts before them.”

            All I’ve got to say to that is pot, kettle?

          4. SouthofDavis

            As a “moderate” I’ve notices that most “conservatives” tend to back the cops almost all the time (even when they belong in jail) while most “progressives” will back the guy the cops just arrested almost all the time (even when they belong in jail)…

            I know two former Davis cops and while both of them complained about the number of left wingers in Davis that hated them one left primarily because the job was boring and is now working in a city with “more action” (his exact words) and the other got a job in another police department that paid more money.

            The MAIN reason we have more people trying to get a firefighter job (in EVERY city in the US) is that firefighters typically work only 10 days a month and get paid to sleep. If we keep the pay the same but let Davis cops work 10 days a month and get paid wile they shop, cook and sleep we will have over 1,000 applications for each spot…

        2. B. Nice

          “I personally prefer to work with patients who are well informed rather than those who are medically uninformed, or worse yet misinformed by the likes of Jenny McCarthy”

          Well “informed” versus well “misinformed” is the key.

      4. Tia Will

        “Firefighters are essentially reactive to their assigned tasks and respond when summoned”

        I cannot help but wonder if we are not significantly underutilizing the capacity and talents of our firefighters.
        I was recently reading about a special unit working in conjunction with the Spokane fire department and am thinking that a similar approach might be useful for Davis. The following is a brief descriptive synopsis of their program.

        Published on Apr 30, 2013
        The CARES Team is a brokering social service agency within the Spokane Fire Department that addresses the needs of citizens utilizing fire department services. CARES was founded in 2008 by the Spokane Fire Department and Eastern Washington University. The team is composed of Eastern Washington University social work Interns as well as two supervisors; a MSW and a Community Services Director. Team members are knowledgeable about local community agencies, diversity issues, and vicarious trauma. Team members are also trained in crisis intervention.

        What Does the CARES Team Do? CARES works in collaboration with the Spokane Fire Department to assist vulnerable populations who face barriers in identifying and utilizing appropriate community resources. The CARES Team visits individuals in their home, works with them to identify their needs, advocates with them and connects them to appropriate resources.

        CARES’ Responsibilitis Include:
        — In-home visits
        — Client assessments
        — Contacting and brokering with other Spokane agencies
        — Advocating, brokering and empowering on behalf of the client
        — Program development
        — Internal and external marketing
        — Participate in local coalitions
        — Grant writing

        Why CARES? CARES was implemented in order to strengthen community relationships, decrease 9-1-1 over-users or abusers, decrease ‘on-scene’ time for engine companies for ‘social service’ calls, decrease level of frustration with front line crews, provide an expanded scope of care and a higher level of service to customers of the Spokane Fire Department. Each time an EMS incident is initiated, a minimum of 1 fire engine with 3-4 firefighters and 1 ambulance, with 2-3 Paramedics arrive on scene. This call costs the City of Spokane approximately $750 per incident. CARES impacts the Spokane Fire Department in a positive and professional manner while assisting customers and community services.

        1. Frankly

          Interesting idea. Can we increase the scope of responsibility of firefighters to help make them better worth what are paying them?

          As I understand the firefighters work 9 24 hour shifts in a 27-day work schedule. That equals 56 hours per week. However, 1/3 of that time is for sleeping. So we are really talking about 37 hours per week of actual potential productive working time (again less all the leave time).

          Is there a creative way to get these firefighters out in the community doing other work? For example, why not have one engine driver stay back, the engine be stocked with the gear needed, and the other firefighters able to work in the community within a perimeter using another vehicle and have constant radio contact in case they need to roll to meet the engine at a specific location?


          1. Tia Will

            When I first heard of this concept, it reminded me of the concept of community policing. What if our firefighter were trained to do in house calls to assess for hazards, not only fire, but perhaps fall prevention for the elderly, checks to make sure that our most vulnerable were in generally safe living situations. Anything that would serve as basic injury and illness prevention. We would not be better off with a proactive preventative rather than a purely reactive approach ?

          2. growth issue

            I doubt the firefighters would agree to anything like you suggested, after all it would cut into their “nap” time.

    1. Davis Progressive

      because it has nothing to do with the fact that davis is at the top of the pay scale for the one with a lot of applicants and near the bottom for the one with few applicants. is this really rocket science?

  2. Phil Coleman

    With few if any exceptions, applicants for open positions for fire fighter respond in far greater numbers than with job announcements for police officer. That’s been a consistent trend for many years and not really attributable to salary discrepancies between the two professions. It may well exacerbate the disparity here in Davis.

    As duly noted with UCD fire fighters, they never lack for applicants even though their salary range is lower than area fire fighters and police officers. I’d be willing to wager if DFD took a $500 monthly pay cut, fired all their people, and made a job announcement for replacements, the applicant line would stretch for several blocks. The answer to the difference in job candidates between the 2 public safety professions rests elsewhere.

    Selection criteria for police officers is much tougher. Take note of the selection process for each job. There is the five-stage testing requirement for all CA police officers. Nothing comparable exists with fire fighter selection. Training: CA police officers must complete state certified basic training of months duration as a pre-condition to even begin work. This rigorous training continues for a year and usually more after being hired and prior to achieving permanent job status. Fire fighters’ entry training by comparison is much less or non-existent.

    Compare workloads between the two positions in Davis, the calls for service AND self-initiated activity. Fire fighters are essentially reactive to their assigned tasks, and respond when summoned. Police officers are both pro-active and reactive in their duties. Consequently, law enforcement officers are more actively engaged in community interaction than their fire fighter colleagues and demonstrate more mobility while doing it. The relative stress level in the two jobs needs no further comment.

    I’ve always had the view that police work was the greatest job in the world, but that sentiment is not universally shared by others in the police profession. The turnover rate for police agencies is quite high. Fire departments are barely familiar with the term. When they select their people, they stay. So, it’s not just a problem of getting qualified police officers, it’s keeping them.

    1. SouthofDavis

      Phil wrote:

      > Selection criteria for police officers is much tougher. Take note of the
      > selection process for each job. Fire fighters’ entry training by comparison
      > is much less or non-existent.

      I believe Phil is a former police officer, so I’m sure he knows more about public safety than I will ever know, but from what I have heard the SF fire and police department both have background checks (both send people out unannounced to talk to your neighbors) and academies to train people. I also have a friend that is currently trying to get a job as a Sacramento firefighter (he was one of the close to 2,000 people that applied last year) and it sounds like you should not even bother to apply unless you are an EMT and from what I hear you still have to go in to an academy class if you are a full on firefighter paramedic just looking to move from another department to Sacramento.

  3. Ryan Kelly

    Do we need to do something to attract good applicants, i.e. housing grants or relocation assistance, education grants to help officers get through their training?

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      I think that’s a good question. I know talking to some of the top brass, they are looking for ways to do it. But obviously nothing is really working.

    2. hpierce

      And yet, that would be an increase in total comp, and would apply to only one segment of the workforce. Great for morale. I remember when, in the early 80’s, there were no qualified applicants for non-safety professional positions. Zero.

    3. Mr. Toad

      A good friend of mine just finished twelve years as mayor of Park City, Utah. They built affordable studio condominium apartments for their firefighters because housing prices are so high there. Perhaps we should do this for our workers.

  4. Frankly

    Police work is more difficult, more stressful, more dangerous, and often times thankless. Firefighters get the constant and relatively easy “hero” feedback from their constituents; while cops are often the targets of rage and frustration from their constituents. Police are sworn to enforce the law. Firefighters ride in on a red horse to save the day.

    Police should be paid more than firefighters.

    1. B. Nice

      Frankly are I agree, with your assessment that police officers are perceived as the bad guys, and I have often wondered if there is a way to change this perception.

      I’m not sure if this program is still going on, but a few years ago, a police officer would “hang out” at Birch Lane in the morning in the back of the school near the bike racks as the kids arrived in the morning. I thought is was a great way for kids to interact with officers in a friendly setting and thus start to view them as an alley or “hero”. vs the “enemy” who pulls their parent over for say, I don’t know, talking on her cell phone while driving. (of coarse we did have a parent kind of freak out a little a PTA and ask if the officer was going to be carrying his gun, and saying that children were scared by his presence, which to me meant she was missing the point).

      A couple of years ago we were in Newport Beach over the 4th of July, (picture picnic day x 1,000). Police and drunk people were both out in force. One officer stood out to me, because he was making an effort to engage positively with the law abiding partyers. He waved, smiled, joked, with them. I thought it was an interesting approach and wondered if it was not a more effective one then the “I’m the authority, so you need to do what I say” one that I often see police officers in use similar situations.

      That being said, they walk a fine and difficult line, between being approachable and maintaining their authority status. As a substitute teacher a can appreciate it the challenges they face when trying to do so. Of coarse, while my sanity feels like it is sometimes on the line when I walk into a classroom, my life isn’t, (despite what the mainstream media seems to imply).

  5. Robb Davis

    Just a note on the box plot–the mean and median calculated here (the mean is the yellow dot) include Davis’ data (unlike the table). The “box” area represents the range in which have the cities’ comp figures range with a quarter above and a quarter below the box area. Min and max are noted.

  6. Mr. Toad

    So with our firefighters over paid and our cops underpaid how do our total public safety expenses compare with other municipalities across the region? My guess is we are somewhere in the middle range. If that is true is our budget more upside down than other local communities. If so there must be other reasons. Could it be that our no growth lifestyle is the root of our problems?

    1. Davis Progressive

      i think david nicely laid out the root of our problems – we spent too much during good times and that left us vulnerable when property tax revenues stopped increasing. we made promises with money we did not have. and then when we got in trouble instead of making real cuts, we deferred maintenance on critical infrastructure. cities that grew faster fared worse than us during the recession.

      1. Mr. Toad

        Yes, but didn’t other cities do the same? So my question is how do we match up regionally and why do we match up the way we do. I don’t know the answer but I think its an important area of exploration and can perhaps shed some light on our path forward our sender luminoso.

        1. Davis Progressive

          which probably saved us a worse calamity as housing prices held better, we didn’t spend even more under Saylor and co, and the sales tax revenue didn’t collapse further. now we have a council that we can take care of economic development without as much concern that they’ll turn around and it give it all to city employees. i do worry about the mr. toad’s of this community however who have never seen a union request that they turned down.

          1. Mr. Toad

            You really have it wrong about me and all I get is one vote out of thousands anyway. Its not that I think our budget is in good shape so we can be spendthrifts with the public purse its that I want to take a realistic approach to how we move forward from where we are at and I don’t think demonizing public sector workers moves us forward.

          2. Davis Progressive

            but your realistic approach was let’s raise revenue through a tax without considering the magnitude of the revenue we need.

            no one is demonizing public sector workers – they are questioning compensation, that’s not the same thing.

          3. Frankly

            So if you bash corporations you are also bashing the employees that work for the company? That does not make any sense.

            I think you are demonstrating some hypersensitivity to the simple complaint about city employee over-compensation and the role that the public-sector unions have in causing it.

          4. B. Nice

            I think a distinction can be made between bashing some questionable union practices, and union bashing in general. Although I have seen both on this site.

          5. hpierce

            Actually, if you look at the rhetoric used, they do lump all public employees in the same ‘basket’, and that’s a main reason for the “push-Back”, and dilutes their arguments. Just my opinion.

          6. Frankly

            Your argument is basically that we would have spent all that additional revenue and would be in the same or greater world of financial hurt. You might be right about that since even cities with much greater revenue from a commitment to economic development find themselves in a similar mess.

            So we should consider ourselves lucky that we have the capacity to remedy our problems… if we only go develop our economy now while also pulling back on our spending.

            But if we refuse or fail to develop our economy there is nothing we can brag about being “smarter” than these other cities.

  7. Mr. Toad

    It appears that D.P.D. is twice as big as D.F.D. so we may actually be spending fewer dollars on public safety than our regional neighbors. Still I don’t know the answer but I think it raises some interesting issues.

  8. SouthofDavis

    The “base salary” numbers hide the fact that firefighters tend to make a lot more overtime (click the link below to read about the SF Firefighter that made $191K in overtime last year, not total pay, a SF firefighter made more than the Governor of the state of California in just OVERTIME). My best friend has not made less than $50K/year in overtime for years and a few years back he was in the $100K+ overtime club (when he ended up working a lot since many of the contractor/firemen he works with got busy at their second jobs and passed on overtime so he got more of it).

    1. Mr. Toad

      I know this kind of outrageous stuff goes on but is this the problem here. What I’m trying to get at is how our budget picture compares with others in the region and why in the hope that we can figure out what we can do to make things better.

      1. SouthofDavis

        Bottom line is that lots of people want to have 20 days off every month (and get paid to sleep eat and watch football on TV at “work”) so Davis could pay the firefighters less than the cops and we would probably not have a single one leave (and if we did have some leave or retire we would get hundreds of qualified applications for each empty spot)…

        P.S. At my best friend’s department the only work they have to do on Sundays is respond to calls (that almost never come) so I often go over to watch football with the guys. There are not many jobs where a guy can make big money watching football with his friends all day (while being waited on by the young “hang around” guys that want to become firefighters who cook and clean)…

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