Don’t cave on police compensation

Chico cannot afford to pay its officers what they are asking

The author, a longtime Chico resident and dentist who loves the town and says he “has the best patients,” is the webmaster and mapper for the Chico Hiking Association.

Public data show how much police and deputies are paid in each of the Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the USA. Of the metro areas under 400,000 in population, Redding, Calif., pays the most in the entire United States.

What did this do for Redding? According to its 2014-15 budget, the city had to eliminate 21 officer positions over the past five years. Police and fire departments in Redding are 63 percent of the city’s general fund. In Chico, those departments account for 72 percent of the general fund, according to the 2014-15 final annual budget. And city staffers tell me that if allocated overhead is included, as well as the police union’s current request for raises, it will be 80 percent.

How is Redding’s high-pay model working? Well, the crime rate there is significantly higher than Chico’s, according to FBI statistics showing that Chico’s violent crime rate was 338 per 100,000 population, whereas Redding was 643 per 100,000 in 2013.

Yet, Redding is the city the Chico Police Officers’ Association compares Chico to in efforts to secure pay raises. In other words, the CPOA is attempting to establish our pay scales in line with the highest-paying metro area of its size in the richest country in the world. The problem is that we cannot afford it; our public works and parks and other services are not going to be functional if we continue down this path.

I assert that being a police officer in Chico at below current pay scales is an excellent career. And it is not especially dangerous, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Law enforcement ranks 23rd, behind such occupations as roofer, pilot, truck driver, farmer, etc. The most dangerous job is that of logger, an occupation with a median wage of $33,630. I’d be very happy for any of my own children to be a Chico police officer. Moreover, police have strong support from the community, including every City Council member.

New City Manager Mark Orme has directed the department to reconnect with the community and interim Police Chief Mike Dunbaugh is emphasizing a community policing model to bring the people and our protectors closer together. I hope the City Council does not give in to the police union’s unreasonable and unsustainable demands, but instead continues to support current and new officers who will accept good pay for a good job in a great community that we all love.