A New York State trooper clears a path of reporters...

A New York State trooper clears a path of reporters as demonstrators on both sides of the same-sex marriage bill protest at the Capitol in Albany. (June 20, 2011) Credit: AP

They risk their lives every day in the service of New York's citizens. But state troopers -- ubiquitous in their blue and gold cruisers on New York's interstate highways -- are also well paid for the job, averaging $112,537 for ranking officers and officials above the starting salary in 2010, a Poughkeepsie Journal study of state payroll records shows.

When civilian employees are included in the analysis, the average pay for the agency drops to $98,500, still the highest in the executive branch, eclipsing state legislators by 20 percent and state university professors by 10 percent.

As a group, only Supreme Court and New York City judges, with an average of $140,000, made more than state police officers.

The six-figure average includes sergeants, majors and all other ranking officers and officials above the starting salary; the state's 2,700 front-line troopers themselves earned an average $101,574. Nationally, New York's force is the second-highest earning, according to 2009 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, behind New Jersey but ahead of California, Alaska and Delaware.

Pay is a sensitive issue -- two state police contracts expired last March 31 -- as demonstrated by the hot-potato response to salary questions. Union representatives demurred to civil service officials, who in turn referred questions to the budget office, which demurred to the state police, which declined to comment.

Through a spokesman, Superintendent Joseph A. D'Amico said it would be "inappropriate" to discuss the "union issue" of pay -- and referred questions back to the union.

In a statement, Thomas H. Mungeer, president of the 3,400-member New York State Troopers PBA, said, "The job of a New York State trooper is one of the most dangerous law enforcement jobs in the United States ... [They] should be compensated accordingly."

Since 2003, 11 troopers have died in the line of duty: Three in shootings, six in automobile crashes and one each from electrocution and a heart attack after a struggle with a suspect.

But given the pay, benefits and wholly state-funded pension of half-salary after 20 years, these are risks many are willing to take. About 15,700 applicants passed the last exam in 2008, according to a state police recruitment website; since then, just 88 troopers have gone through academy training.

"The question is whether these salaries are necessary to attract the right people for these important jobs," said Robert Ward, deputy director of the Rockefeller Institute, which tracks state fiscal issues. "Most public sector jobs in New York are highly attractive as evidenced by the number of people applying for them and the rarity of people leaving voluntarily."

A former state police investigator from Dutchess County insisted the salaries are warranted. "It is important for the state police to attract the best applicants they can," said John Crodelle, a 35-year veteran who retired in 1996, noting that many candidates have four-year degrees (though 60 credits, or two years of college, are required).

"The police job is much more dangerous today than in 1961 when I started," he added.

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