That cop who pulled you over probably pulls in more than you do.
Seven of every eight county police officers on Long Island -- a total of 4,587 -- earned more than $100,000 in salary, overtime and other pay last year, records show.
While average county police pay was nearly $106,000 in 2002, by last year it had climbed by 30 percent to $137,858 in Nassau, and $136,985 in Suffolk for sworn officers of all ranks, according to records provided by the two county comptrollers.
Long Island workers brought home an average wage of $49,010 last year -- an increase of about 20 percent since 2002. Managers made $121,950, 19 percent more, federal statistics show. But even rank-and-file county cops made management wages, earning an average of $121,065.
Seventy percent of rank-and-file county cops in Nassau, and 94 percent in Suffolk, made more than $100,000, records show. More than one in four sworn officers, or 1,421, made more than $150,000. That pay has resulted from leapfrogging arbitrations that gave each county's police big raises to match the other's last contract.
Police pay, a perennial sore point here, is again a big issue as Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy negotiates with the union for cost controls. Wednesday, Levy sends a 2010 budget to the printer that cuts 60 to 70 police jobs -- language he says he'll rescind if the union ratifies last week's deal deferring $12 million in pay. The contract ended in 2007 and is in arbitration.
In Nassau, despite a new contract that cuts pay for new recruits, average pay has continued to climb, thanks to step increases and longevity pay.
"Sometimes I feel like a lone wolf shouting out about the need to control these costs," said Levy. "When taxpayers see these numbers, they'll know why I've been fighting so hard to protect them."
Some pay more
But the numbers draw a shrug from Suffolk Police Benevolent Association president Jeff Frayler. Twenty-two departments on Long Island offer higher top base pay than Suffolk, the PBA said.
That includes 18 of Nassau's 20 county, town and village departments, which now offer top base pay over $100,000, said Gary Fishberg, an attorney for several villages. So do the Suffolk villages of Asharoken, Amityville, Quogue and Southampton, the PBA says.
"Here's what I know: Police on Long Island make a certain level of pay," Frayler said. "I don't think the police district tax is unreasonable for the quality of service that you get -- not by a long shot."
Amityville Mayor Peter Imbert agreed. "What price do you put on safety? We want the best," he said.
The PBA was the only Suffolk County union that refused this year to agree to a lag payroll to help close a yawning budget gap, saying it wanted assurances Levy would protect existing police jobs after the bitter fight over giving highway patrol duties to the sheriff. Levy agreed not to give any more police jobs to other law enforcement unions under the tentative deal.
But, citing frayed trust in Levy's team and fears for public safety, county lawmakers have been reliable allies of the PBA this year, refusing to approve layoffs and calling for more hiring.
They note that Suffolk has 300 fewer officers than it did in 1996 -- although records show the police district budget has grown by 47 percent, after inflation.
"Fiscal responsibility can't outweigh public safety," said public safety committee chairman Jack Eddington (I-Patchogue). "We have officers feeling bad about themselves. I want happy, safe and secure police officers."
Average pay to climb
In Nassau, Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey said despite lower starting salaries, average pay is likely to move up for a few years.
Starting pay in Nassau is now just $34,000, compared to $41,975 in New York City and $59,811 in Suffolk. But pay for veteran officers remains more generous in Nassau, records show.
In July, some 160 of the highest-earning officers retired, spurred by new rules that limit termination pay. Nassau is also reducing its force, from 2,750 to 2,550 officers -- but a hiring freeze has meant fewer cops at the low end of the earning scale.
Eventually, average pay will begin to drop, Mulvey said - but just when? "That's a hard question to answer," he said.
Nassau PBA president James Carver said he believes the public overall is "happy with what they're getting for their money."
"We're a professional department that's basically corruption-free. . . . We treat the public almost like they're our customers. . . . For a professional police department, you pay."