Vanguard Commentary: Equalizing Pay for Police and Fire



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


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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22 thoughts on “Vanguard Commentary: Equalizing Pay for Police and Fire”

  1. zaqzaq

    David wrote,

    “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.”

    This is in my opinion the result of Props 36 and 47.  We will continue to see an increase in property crime as a result of these propositions.

    1. Tia Will

      This is in my opinion the result of Props 36 and 47.  We will continue to see an increase in property crime as a result of these propositions.”

      To test this theory, it would be good to see comparative statistics over the same amount of time from comparable communities subject to Props 36 and 47, and those not subject to them. Maybe someone with more time than me today would like to take this on.

    2. David Greenwald Post author

      I’m not convinced on that. The research that we have printed previous doesn’t find a discernible pattern.

      . A January 2014 report, analyzing 2012 data, showed no statewide pattern between AB 109 Realignment and crime. A study from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice found “no conclusive trends demonstrating a causal relationship between Realignment and crime, even among counties in close geographic proximity.”

      They added, “There may be non-Realignment factors that inform an increase in certain crimes.”

      This report offers a cautionary tale for Mr. Reisig’s analysis: “The lack of a clear pattern—in fact, it is hard to imagine a pattern that is more ambivalent and complicated—indicates the perils of drawing hard conclusions about a single, albeit important, public policy change such as Realignment based on short-term crime trends.”

      Our article:

      1. zaqzaq

        I believe that there is a county wide increase in violent and property crime since the passage of prop 47 which only increased the problem after Prop 36 and AB 109.  In an April presentation Woodland Chief Bellini noted that violent crime was trending down prior to AB 109 but has increased since.  “Specifically, Woodland saw 300 cases of violent crime last year (2014), compared to 272 in 2013 and 177 in 2012.”  That is a significant increase in violent crime in that community post AB 109.  It would be interesting to get the numbers for violent and property crime in our counties cities post AB 109 and now post Prop 36 and 47.  My focus is on our county not the rest of the state.  Also David’s article is pre prop 47.

        1. Barack Palin

          Yes Zaqzaq, as David states “the answer is empirically evident” as the rise in crime since Prop 47 was enacted proves your point.  You see, those on the left know this but try to hide the facts because they pushed and backed those laws.

        2. David Greenwald Post author

          But if the changes in law were the cause of the increase, we would expect to see the effect consistently across counties statewide and we do not. Your focus may be on our county, but you have to be able to explain why AB 109 would increase crime in Yolo County but not other counties.

        3. Frankly

          But if the changes in law were the cause of the increase, we would expect to see the effect consistently across counties statewide and we do not.

          That is some made-up criteria.  I don’t think criminals get together and say “let’s spread out so we keep our crime outcomes consistent among all communities.”

          In the end, it is an inconvenient problem with social justice crusaders that have taking criminals under their wing as a new victim class.  If you go softer on crime and let more of them off, there will be more crime.  I think you are bailing water on a sinking ship here trying to make the case that this is not the case.

        4. Davis Progressive

          by the same token, if changes in law were causing changes in criminal behavior, we would expect to see those changes across the board rather than clustered areas of decline and areas of increase.

        5. Davis Progressive

          tbd: the “article” you cite was from 2014, given that prop 47 was enacted and implemented very late in 2014, i question the usefulness of the data.

  2. zaqzaq

    The UC Davis Police Department (UCDPD)  has a cadet program for graduating seniors.  My understanding is that UCDPD selects one participant and pays for their academy training and an offer of a job.  It would seem appropriate for DPD to hop on the bandwagon and do the same thing working in conjunction with UCDPD to help train and evaluate the cadets participating in the program and then selecting one to put through the academy to then come and work for DPD.  These new officers would both be familiar with the community and be young enough to better interact with younger victims, witnesses and suspects.  If this policy were implemented it would likely over time improve the force at DPD.

  3. Tia Will

    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?”

    My first thought would be that the answer depends on how you view policing and your personal responsibility and mission as a police officer. If you value “more action” with “less scrutiny” then I would say that would automatically not make you the best fit for Davis. But if you prefer less personal physical risk, working collaboratively with an educated, articulate public and with the youth of the community in a positive, proactive way so as to encourage them to see the police as collaborators and protectors rather than adversaries and oppressors, then I would say that Davis would be the better choice.


    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Tia: with all due respect, the answer is empirically evident in the difficulty of Davis finding officers that meet their qualifications.

      1. Tia Will


        With respect right back at you 😉 , we know that there is trouble recruiting. We do not know ( unless you have material that you have not published) why that is the case .  Is it purely financial ? Is it because young police officers objectively prefer a more “active” as in “the good guys vs the bad guys” over a more community based model of policing ?  If so, is that because we have traditionally favored this outlook in police recruitment and training ?  Is it because young officers prefer to live in or near the communities in which they police in which many newcomers might prefer another community ? How about family factors?  A young police officer with a husband or wife and young children might find a less dangerous position more compatible with their family responsibilities. I think that your comment that I responded to is a generalization that  leaves out many of a myriad of factors that may be taken into account when making a career decision.

        Without the data, we know that there is difficulty recruiting. What we do not know is the causation, which at this point appears to me to be speculation.  Data, if it exists, would be helpful.


        1. Frankly

          What kind of data?  How about this, knowing what I know today about both jobs, assuming all we already know about the job requirements and the pay, if I was a 20-year old knowing all we know today, I would absolutely be more interested in a job as a firefighter instead of law enforcement.

          Note too that the social justice and political left have also done a number on the national brand of police work… I expect that police departments across the country are going to have more difficulty attracting quality candidates.   Why work in a job that has been used as a lightning rod for excuse for the problems of decades of failed liberal policies?

          Ironic isn’t it.  Police and soldiers are demonized, and teachers and firefighters are the heroes.  Just goes to show how well the political left machine controls the media machine that controls the narrative that is good for the political left machine.

  4. hpierce

    Admittedly without cite-able data, I have a theory that actually gets to the heading of this topic, “Equalizing pay…”.

    My theory is, based on observations, that there are three groups of public employees who (traditionally) get the most public sympathy to not be cut in bad economic times, and the first priority, in the public view to be restored/enhanced when things turn around.  Public Safety (Police and Fire), and Teachers.

    Ironically, these three professions, in the public sector, are most likely to have unions (“true” ones, with local, and generally statewide and national support groups).  “it’s for the kids”, “they risk their lives for us”, etc. are common PR themes, and resonate with much of most communities.

    Most communities (can’t cite figures, but recall seeing over 40 years), compensate their fire and police similarly… i.e., if a community values their police @ 10% over median, they also do for FF’s.  Sometimes it ‘oscillates’… FF’s do better in some years, then PD catches up, or vice versa.

    David has pointed out, accurately I believe, the disparity in that ‘relationship’ in Davis.  That disparity, in and of itself (in my theory) affects employment attraction rates.  There are three major ways to “fix that” [if it needs fixing], and another way, which I’ve heard, but do not espouse.  1) raise PD compensation to match FD; 2) decrease FF compensation to match PD; 3) do a “zero sum game (keeping total compensation dollars the same), and reduce FF and increase PD to get to the zero sum “tipping point”.

    The fourth (the one I think is ineffective), is the kharma approach, which has been suggested by at least one poster.  “We really value you time and talents, but our ‘love and respect’ you should see as a significant part of your compensation.”

    Side note, I see the discussion of crime rates and their causes or not, as “off topic”, but certainly “fun”, but with the rambling thoughts in the main article [and David’s rapid responses to those], I see why most would see that as a wide open door.



  5. TrueBlueDevil

    Given all of the financial problems, why is a pay increase the primary and first suggestion?

    Marketing the many benefits of Davis would be a solution to draw more candidates. Evolving Sacramento helps. A new officer could live in Davis, Woodland, or Midtown Sacramento if they still seek a little nightlife and urban energy. Tia also mentioned the safety of Davis, I am sure many a spouse would love that aspect.

    We could also expand the volunteer and / or cadet (?) pool, which might filter out those that aren’t a fit, while also giving training for possible future applicants.

    I’d also be looking to save monies at the Fire Department, including considering bringing back a supplemental volunteer fire crew. Niro is playing his fiddle while Rome burns.

    1. Davis Progressive

      i know that the police have undertaken extensive marketing efforts to no effect.  you argue pay increase is the primary and first suggestion, but the problem with that view is that this issue isn’t new and other efforts have been unsuccessfully attempted.

  6. PhilColeman

    Is salary and total comp a significant factor when a highly qualified police officer candidate tries to decide where he/she is going to apply?

    Answer: Yes. All other things being equal, which they never are, material compensation is a major factor in luring that most precious of personnel resources–a qualified police officer candidate. There is absolutely no question in my mind that increasing total comp is some fashion will increase the numbers of qualified candidates, the ones we really need. Davis Police officers with families will live in the community for all the obvious reasons, but can’t afford it.

    The “action factor.” It depends. Some adrenalin junkies who are really attracted to the idea of constant activity, lots of felony crimes to prevent and solve, will gravitate towards the larger departments with more crime than it can effectively handle. FULL DISCLOSURE: That was my second-most attraction when I traveled 2,500 miles to join the Oakland Police Department. And is was very busy and I loved every minute of it. Yet, there are legions of other folks who appreciate the opportunity to do more self-initiated police-related activity, including interacting informally in daily citizen contacts.

    Reputation. Every community has one, and so does the police department it represents. The Davis community reputation is sterling, ignoring all that silliness in the local political spectrum. The City of Davis is the envy (and some green-eyed jealousy) of most every other city in California of comparable size, and smaller cities, and larger cities.

    The Davis Police Department has had it ups and downs, like every other law enforcement agency. Overall, DPD is widely respected throughout California. There is a truism in law enforcement: Every city gets the police department they deserve.

    The Davis Police Department is not even close to be over-scrutinized.  That’s a myth. I was much more closely scrutinized, internally and externally, while serving in the Oakland Police Department. Davis is a cakewalk by comparison. Ninety percent of the Davis citizens openly like and admire you. Five percent are secret admirers who stay silent. The remaining five percent are turds, who hate everybody.

    1. Frankly

      Comp is an interesting thing in terms of attracting the right candidates. In my experience there is an equilibrium where too little comp attracts the wrong candidates, and too much comp attracts the wrong candidates.  Or alternatively, too little or too much comp dissuades or attracts people to job for reasons other than they are really a great fit for the actual job.

  7. Tia Will


    too little or too much comp dissuades or attracts people to job for reasons other than they are really a great fit for the actual job.”

    A great argument in my opinion for providing the same compensation for all work done and letting people gravitate to the area of their greatest potential contribution rather than guessing and  trying to outmaneuver the “competition” to get the “best employees”.

    Let’s look at the assumptions that underlie the way we are approaching this. In our current model, we are “competing” with adjacent communities for the best candidates. Let’s suppose that we “win” and get the “best”. Does that not mean that our surrounding areas get inferior candidates for their police force ? Do we really see it as a good strategy to have the “best” in Davis while our surrounding communites have poor policing ?  This may or may not be good enough for private companies, who as best I can see, do not mind if the competition has poor outcomes or goes out of business. I would put forth the idea that this is not really the goal we should be advocating in the public sector.

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