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How Much Do Police Officers Make?
Police officers and sheriff’s patrol officers earn a median annual salary of $64,610. The exact police salary depends on a number of factors and varies from state to state. In general, earnings range from $40,190 to $102,530. Your particular area of law enforcement also influences earnings. Detectives and criminal investigators, for instance, tend to be paid more—$59,380, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS).
Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officer Median Annual Salary
Median Salary: $64,610
Projected job growth: 3.1%
10th Percentile: $40,190
25th Percentile: $50,630
75th Percentile: $81,850
90th Percentile: $102,530
Projected job growth: 3.1%
|State||Median Salary||Bottom 10%||Top 10%|
|District of Columbia||$79,310||$62,430||$101,050|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.
It’s important to note that the BLS’s figures for the median salary of federal law enforcement jobs reflect a wide range of positions, and salaries for individual job titles can differ by tens of thousands of dollars. For example, a state prison bailiff earns a median salary of $62,090 per year, while a computer analyst with a government agency can earn $80,040 annually.
Stephen Webb, Principal Lecturer and Criminal Justice Program Lead at Regent University in Virginia, advises that you make your decision about a career in law enforcement based on the kind of work you want to do, rather than how much a police officer can make.
“If you’re going into it for the money, you’re in it for the wrong reason,” Webb observes. “It really needs to be a calling.”
Geography, Experience, and More: What Factors Affect Law Enforcement Salaries?
Each individual police organization makes its salary schedule based on complex and interrelated factors, such as local norms, political influences, and police union negotiations.
Some of the strongest factors affecting salaries are geography, years of experience, specialty, and qualifications.
A Strong Correlation: How Location and Cost of Living Impact Overall Earnings
There is a strong correlation between metro areas with a high cost of living and those with higher annual salaries, according to the latest data from The Council for Community and Economic Research.
|Metro Areas with Highest Cost of Living||Highest Paying Metro Areas for Police|
|New York City, NY||New York City, NY|
|Honolulu, HI||Chicago, IL|
|San Francisco, CA||Washington DC|
|Washington DC||Los Angeles, CA|
|Los Angeles, CA||Miami, FL|
Highest and Lowest Paying States for Police Officers
The highest police salaries are on the West Coast and the East Coast from New York to Washington, D.C. Two Midwest states, Minnesota and Illinois, as well as Alaska and Hawaii, also rank high in police pay.
The states with the lowest average salaries for law enforcement are located mostly in the South. The five lowest are Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Tennessee.
Salaries for law enforcement officers of all kinds differ from one state to another, even for the same job and rank. For example, the average salary for a New York state trooper can be significantly higher than a Texas state trooper or Florida state trooper.
States with the Highest Average Police Salary
|State||Annual Average Wage|
How Workplace Influences Law Enforcement Salaries: Local vs. State Police
The BLS reports the following median salaries for police and detectives based on who employs them:
It’s difficult to make a blanket statement about whether local or state police will earn higher salaries, according to Webb, who retired after more than 27 years as a Virginia state trooper. There are far too many factors influencing pay, he says.
Training and Education
You may be able to get an entry-level job in law enforcement with only a high school diploma. Some police forces require you to have an associate or bachelor’s degree to begin. Earning a college degree, either before or after you start working as a police officer, could help to advance your career and increase your earning potential.
Earning a college degree, either before or after you start working as a police officer, could help to advance your career and increase your earning potential
Higher ranks, such as lieutenant, captain, and commander, almost always require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, but those roles typically earn more than an entry-level officer. Some high-ranking officers even have master’s degrees or doctorates.
A college degree can help you land a job in law enforcement, and might even be required to earn certain promotions. In addition, some police organizations offer extra pay to officers with a degree. This can be a flat rate or a percentage-based increase.
Experience, Promotions Increase Earning Potential
Salary increases for police are usually organized on step pay scale based on years of experience and rank. Each step between pay raises represents a certain number of years. Advance to the next step, and you get a raise of a certain percentage. For example, you might be able to move from Step 1 (entry-level) to Step 2 in just one year, but to get to the next pay increase at Step 3, you may have to work for several years.
Of course, beyond the length of an officer’s tenure, advancing through the chain of command also tends to come with salary increases. Police organizations almost always promote from within the staff, explains Stephen Webb, lecturer in criminal justice at Regent University. When a law enforcement officer advances to the next rank, such as police sergeant, lieutenant, commander, or captain, it comes with a bump in pay.
Police chiefs and sheriffs tend to make the highest salaries in their organization, with annual median wage reported at $99,330 per year.
In addition to their base salary police officers commonly receive benefits such as health and life insurance, vacation, sick leave, and access to retirement plans such as a 401K plan or pension.
When police officers work overtime, they may be paid time and a half for the extra hours they work. This can include working beyond the scheduled shift or doing extra duties such as testifying in court.
There may also be funds available to pay for continuing education and training.
How Does a Police Officer’s Salary Compare to Similar Careers?
Front-line police officers are not the only careers in the field of criminal justice. Other first responds, as well as the court system and correctional institutions, are also vital in keeping communities safe and fighting crime.
These areas come with many opportunities for positions in support and administration, according to Vesna Markovic, who teaches criminal justice at Lewis University near Chicago. Examples include:
Many people interested in law enforcement also work in the private sector, says Markovic. This can include security guards, loss prevention analysts, risk assessment, and investigators. Markovic worked for several years as a private investigator.
Some of these jobs will pay significantly less than police officers, but some can pay more, depending on the level of education and expertise needed.
|Career||Median Annual Salary|
|Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers||$64,610|
|Correctional Officers and Jailers||$47,920|
|Emergency Medical Technicians||$35,470|
Is Law Enforcement an In-Demand Career?
In short, yes.
Over the next decade, the number of job openings are expected to grow by about 3.1% per year for police officers of all ranks. Despite the limited growth, this puts the BLS projections at around 68,500 openings for police and detectives each year across the country.
Many police and sheriff’s departments across the country are seriously understaffed and looking for qualified applicants, according to Webb.
“They’re really trying to attract qualified individuals right now,” Webb says. Departments are competing with one another for the best applicants, and many are offering sign-on bonuses, Webb says.