Thinking Sensibly about Virginia State Police Salaries

Lawmakers proposes big increase for Virginia State Police salaries.

Virginia State Police graduates. Lawmakers propose a big increase in starting salaries. Photo credit:

Virginia State Police troopers would receive a $7,000 pay raise — a 22.3% boost for starting salaries — under a budget proposal that also would provide a 3% pay raise for all state employees, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The dramatic pay hike comes in response to deteriorating morale and a surge in state trooper departures.

Is such a big pay raise justified in the midst of a budget crunch in which lawmakers are forced to cut other programs?

Clearly, the state police have a massive problem. In November, the agency had 257 vacancies in a sworn force of 2,148, according to the Daily Press. Over the past few years, the state police averaged six departures monthly, reports the T-D. That number increased to 13 per month in last year and shot up to 22 in just the first 20 days of 2017.

By my back-of-the-envelope calculations, paying 2,150 officers an extra $7,000 each will cost the state about $15 million per year. That is a considerable sum. However, if the pay increase staunches the loss of manpower, it will be offset by a reduced training costs. The Times-Dispatch article notes that it costs the City of Richmond about $100,000 to get a recruit trained and on the street. Assuming that the cost to the state police is roughly comparable, and assuming the pay hike reduces the number of departures back to the pre-crisis norm of six per month, the state police will need to train 80 to 90 fewer troopers each year. That would represent a savings of $8 million to $9 million. (I have made several assumptions here, which undoubtedly can be refined, but you get the gist.)

Thus, while the $15 million departmental pay raise will not fully pay for itself through reduced turnover, the adjusted cost when taking training expenses into account will be considerably lower.

Are there other ways to offset the expense? Presumably, some state police functions are more critical than others, and some offer more law enforcement bang for the buck than others. Could the troopers be relieved of low value-added tasks that soak up manpower?

For example, lawmakers enacted a policy last year as part of a bipartisan compromise on gun control, in which state police conduct background checks at gun shows. Implementing that policy cost $300,000 annually to pay for three full-time civilian positions, as the Times-Dispatch reports here. In its first six months, the program resulted in only one person being denied the purchase of a weapon at 41 Virginia gun shows. The man was wanted for failing to appear before a grand jury in September. Was that one detention worth $300,000?

Six months may not be sufficient time to fairly judge the effectiveness of the program. But that’s the kind of question we need to be asking. Instead of stroking the state police a $15 million check, legislators should ask the top brass to enumerate all the tasks state troopers are called upon to perform. How much manpower do those jobs require? What value do they provide? Can we reduce the number of troopers on payroll without harming public safety?

It seems clear that we need to increase Virginia State Police salaries, and equally clear that the state will recoup some of that expense through reduced training expenditures. However, we should not assume that the only way to pay for higher salaries is to pump more money into the agency. Perhaps we can scale back tasks of marginal value. Unfortunately, I see no indication in the news coverage of this issue that anyone has even considered that alternative.

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5 responses to “Thinking Sensibly about Virginia State Police Salaries

  1. very first thing that comes to mind after the massive raise – is are they taking care of the pension obligations or creating bigger liabilities to deal with later?

    perhaps this is already taken care of but it disturbs me that it’s not also in wider discussion .. especially sense other state employees are not getting a raise and apparently more requirements on their pension funding.. from salary.

    • Good point. Any full accounting needs to take into account the impact on pensions. I had not considered that.

    • One point to remember is that new hires participate in the hybrid VRS pension plan that combines a 401(k)-type plan with some defined benefits and uses a higher combination age/service years for retirement. Pension benefit liability will not be as great for any new troopers.

      • One thing that would dramatically empower the troopers – and TMT alluded to it – portable pensions and portable health care.

        that gives them the ability to go for the best jobs with the best pay and benefits and let State Management and the General Assembly be properly responsible for policies and benefits that will keep them as employees rather than pension and health care that “job locks” them.

  2. Each night at 10PM my husband puts on his blue and grey uniform, kisses our two year old daughter goodbye, and goes to work protecting the interstates in Hampton Roads. Each night I sleep alone. Each morning I wake up and the first thing I do is look out the window to make sure his car is in the driveway and that he made it home safe. He sleeps in the spare bedroom in an effort to not wake me up at 6AM. He sleeps until 1PM. I go to work from 130-930. When I come home, it’s barely enough time to kiss him hello and goodbye. Once a month he has a three day weekend. He is worn out, exhausted, and has a ton of paperwork to do. We are struggling to pay our bills.. and yet, we don’t spend any time together. It is bad enough that the State Police has banned Troopers from getting overtime. It’s time for a raise.

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