Pay for part-time police officers not commensurate with duties, some say
For a few dollars more than minimum wage, part-time officers across Pennsylvania are hitting streets to defuse fights, investigate drug trafficking and remove drunk drivers from roads.
After witnessing the dangers of policing for nearly 10 years as a former mayor, state Sen. James Brewster, (D-McKeesport), sponsored a state proposal that would subsidize pay for part-time officers. A public hearing on the bill could happen in Pittsburgh this fall.
“I don't think it's appropriate to pay them a salary that doesn't make any sense,” Brewster said.
Pay for part-time officers varies from $12 per hour in Derry Borough to $16 per hour in Manor Borough. In comparing hourly wages for other public-sector jobs, secretaries earn about $16, correctional officers earn about $19 and postal service workers earn about $25, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Federal minimum wage is $7.25.
In 2011, when part-time Clairton officer Jim Kuzak Jr. was shot five times while responding to a home invasion, Brewster said he knew he wanted to initiate a change. Kuzak was left paralyzed from the waist down.
“Most of the communities that have part-time officers are paying less than $15 an hour,” Brewster said. “Nobody should have to go out and carry a gun and deal with violence for that amount of money.”
Brewster's bill would subsidize pay for part-time officers up to $15 an hour and $5,000 per officer, annually. Money would be generated from a $10 fee tacked onto moving violations.
In some small communities, police expenditures can be almost 25 percent of the total budget. In 2011, Irwin spent about $391,000 on police protection, Derry Borough spent about $199,000, Delmont spent about $295,000 and Manor spent about $279,000, according to 2011 statistics from the Governor's center for Local Government Services.
In Derry and Delmont, those expenditures are almost a quarter of their respective budgets.
Although there are no part-time officers for Penn Township Police, Chief John Otto said he understands why some rural communities choose them.
“The municipalities love it ‘cause they pay them dirt cheap and have someone show up at the door when they call 911,” Otto said. “Some municipalities pay very little and they go through them like water.”
Otto said the system is not designed to produce part-time officers and is grateful that commissioners elect to only employ full-time officers.
“We don't want a guy driving a car that's making life and death decisions that's been awake for 32 hours before they come to you,” he said.
About 25 percent — or 4,600 of the nearly 18,000 — police officers in Pennsylvania are part-time, according to statistics from the Governor's Center for Local Government Services.
“More than anything, it boils down to economics,” said John Mackey, chairman of the Chiefs of Police Association of Pennsylvania and Bethel Park police chief.
“The part-time officer has to make a decision — am I willing to work this job with all the inherent dangers for maybe $12 or $15 an hour?,” he said. “They're exposed to the same danger as the full-time guys for less money. You have to admire their dedication.”