In 2009, in one of the most widely read articles on the old Vanguard site, we ran “Why Do Firefighters Make Substantially More than Police Officers in Davis?” Four years later, our analysis found that, while Davis firefighters make near the top in compensation in the region, police make near the bottom.
The 2013 data showed that, on the fire side, the typical firefighter makes $7044 per month in salary and $9536 in total compensation. 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.
As we have noted time and again, this huge discrepancy has real policy implications. When the city relatively recently hired five new firefighters, they had a huge pool of applicants with many waiting for hours in the cold just to be able to get an application. However, when the city attempts to hire police officers it is a different story – the city struggles to get a pool of qualified applicants who would be appropriate to the city of Davis.
There are several factors at play here. First, Davis has a much lower crime rate than surrounding communities. The citizen base is highly educated and affluent with a large student population. As such, that presents a bit of a challenge for policing. Over time, we have seen that police officers face a great deal more scrutiny in the city of Davis than they do in other areas in this region.
Second, unlike the firefighters, who are near the top in pay in the region, police officers are near the bottom. So if you are a young police officer and can get more pay in a city with more action and less scrutiny, which would you take?
One school of thought is that if the city had the resources, they could take a young pool of college graduates and train them to be police officers with the education and cultural awareness needed to perform the job in the city of Davis.
There is a second issue and that has to do with changing demographics and shifting crime rates. Davis has seen, over the last few years, an uptick in the number of residential burglaries and property crimes. While the violent crime rate remains low compared to other communities, it too has inched upward in recent years.
While a late March analysis showed no clear pattern in Davis’ uptick in murders, it is worth noting that from 2004 to 2011 there were no murders in the city of Davis. The city has since seen at least six murders. In addition, Quentin Stone was accused of shaking his three month-old-baby to death, but was acquitted, and you have the recent second-degree murder conviction for a car crash that would not count as a traditional “murder.”
Furthermore, in the recent debate over the MRAP (mine-resistant armor protected vehicle), the police cited a number of weapons raids that found high powered weaponry capable of piercing body armor and conventional armored vehicles. Such a fear back in March prompted the police to call out two MRAPs to deal with what they thought could be a hostage situation at the murder-suicide site.
A week ago, it was a junior high school prank about a weapon on campus that prompted a lock down of a few West Davis schools and many nervous parents and community members, before police were able to determine it was a hoax and apprehend the juveniles responsible.
In addition to concerns that the pay discrepancy has led to a shortage of qualified police officer candidates, there is the overall lack of resources that has led to an under-staffed police department where, many times, as few as four police officers patrol a city of 65,000 people with a 30,000 person university next door.
As the Vanguard analysis showed on Monday, money remains tight. However, the high compensation for firefighters has come at the cost of fewer resources for other areas of the city, most notably the police department.
In 2013, the city of Davis made a series of critical changes to the fire department. It reduced the number of firefighters on a shift from 12 to 11. It enacted a boundary drop allowing UC Davis to respond to emergencies that were closer to. And we enacted a shared management agreement to increase cooperation between UC Davis and the city of Davis.
However, while those reforms have helped, the pay discrepancy remains, not only between police and fire, but the pay discrepancy between city of Davis fire and UC Davis fire was large enough to force UC Davis to end a proposed merger from 2010 and 2011.
Most times we have more than twice the number of firefighters on duty as police officers. While the firefighters perform important duties, especially on medical calls, fire calls are few and far between.
As such, the city needs to prioritize resources for the police department.
First, we need to look at ways to increase pay and the quality of the applicant pool. Is it cost effective for Davis to be able to recruit from a pool of UC Davis graduates and then train them to be police officers?
Second, we need to find a way to increase the number of police officers on duty and that means recruiting more quality police officers to fill our ranks. We have seen what happens when we select questionable police officers – many have not lasted the rigors and specifics of the local job.
Third, while the Vanguard strongly opposed the city acquiring an MRAP, we would be supportive of the city acquiring a non-military armored vehicle, along with strict guidelines for its usage and a continuation of the surround and call out approach to such calls, rather than dynamic entries.
All of this requires resources that we do not have. So we need to think strategically and look for ways to improve revenue. For me, these types of expenditures should be prioritized over the “nice to haves” and is another reason we need to look at economic development as a way to increase our revenue.
While the Vanguard has necessarily focused on the need for police reform, part of that need is for the police to be properly staffed to do the job we ask them to do.
—David M. Greenwald reporting