Police highest paid public employees


Hawaii police officers are the highest-paid public employees in the state, higher even than college professors, according to a West Hawaii Today analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data released Thursday.

A full-time police officer in Hawaii in March 2011, the month the data was collected, made an average $6,685, compared to a university instructional employee, who made $6,547. Firefighters came in third, making $6,462.

The lowest-paid employees were support personnel at public elementary and secondary schools, making $2,107 that month, parks and recreation employees, making $3,397, and library employees, making $3,428.

In general, Hawaii came in about average for the number of state and local government workers per population and their salaries. State and county workers made up 6.58 percent of the population, compared to 6.2 percent for the nation as a whole. The average pay for all state and local employees in Hawaii was $3,432, compared to the U.S. average of $3,652.

“We believe the state offers a competitive package of wages and benefits. We also have a very hard-working and dedicated workforce,” Gov. Neil Abercrombie spokeswoman Louise McCoy said Thursday.

There were 2,988 full-time police officers, 3,708 college professors and 1,786 firefighters in Hawaii, according to the Annual Survey of Public Employment & Payroll, which included state and local public employees, but not federal employees.

Police officers are about to get even more pay.

The Hawaii County Council on Wednesday unanimously approved steep pay hikes for the State of Hawaii Police Officers union. The county administration said it may have to dip into other departments’ funding to find almost $4 million for the police raises that weren’t in the budget.

The raises are the result of collective bargaining at the state level with the union. The amount was decided in arbitration and was agreed upon too late to make it into the current budget that started July 1. But the county has to find the money for this year and for significant raises over the next three fiscal years.

The raises will cost the county an extra $1.3 million this fiscal year, $3.1 million next year, $4.7 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year and $6.9 million in 2016-17 in wages alone, according to information provided by the Finance Department. Tallying in benefits and other nonwage costs, the increase spikes to $3.7 million this year, $7.4 million next year, $11.7 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year and $15.3 million in 2016-17.

Although the governor has four votes during collective bargaining and each county gets one vote, McCoy said the process wasn’t applicable in this case.

“The state does not employ police officers. They are county employees,” McCoy said. “The latest increase was a result of an arbitration decision and not a result of negotiations.”

The arbitration is binding on all parties, but the councils are required to approve the funding.

Entry-level police officers currently are paid about $56,000 to start. The increase will bring that base pay up to $65,000 to $75,000 annually. Officers are also paid a firearm maintenance allowance, hazard pay, stand-by pay and other additions to the salary. A standard of conduct differential pay is included in the mix.

SHOPO President Tenari Maafala did not return a telephone message Thursday, but he defended the pay before the County Council earlier this month.

“There is no taking a break when we are police officers,” Maafala said, adding that even off-duty police can be reprimanded for not responding to an emergency.

Council members praised the police for their work and dedication, and reflected on previous years when the state trained officers, who then left for better-paying jobs on the mainland.

“You have our support from the council and the community,” said Council Chairman J Yoshimoto.