Police officers are at the front-line of law enforcement, performing jobs that are important to the community.
So you would expect that police officers earn a reasonable pay packet and have decent leave entitlements. But the Police Association has suggested that police officers are not adequately paid, particularly in light of the current climate of heightened security and terrorism fears.
Rates of pay
In 2014, a probationary constable earned around $65,000 (including 11.5 per cent loading).
This is a very generous pay packet when compared with graduate salaries for other professions. It is far higher than, for example, a graduate lawyer who will have had to achieved good grades in high school, then completed five years or more of difficult tertiary studies – comprising a relevant degree or diploma in law followed by a graduate diploma in legal practice – before finally being admitted into practice.
A student who is finally admitted as a lawyer will therefore have given up many years of potential earning capacity and incurred a huge HECS debt along the way.
By comparison, the requirements for entering the NSW Police Academy are set extremely low and studies are for approximately 30 weeks.
But even though the starting rate for police is generous, salaries will often increase slowly from that point on. While a lawyer, accountant or IT professional might have the potential to earn six figures or set up their own business over five to 10 years, a police constable who is unable to get a promotion to a higher rank within five years of service will earn around $73,600 (including loading).
It is easy to imagine that after five years, a constable will have significant experience; but like many other public sector jobs (including legal aid lawyers), the pay doesn’t increase to the same extent as many private sector jobs unless there is a promotion of some sort.
Bigger jumps in police salaries rely on constables being moved up the ranks. For example, senior constables can earn between $81,000 and $94,000, and in the upper ranks, senior sergeants can earn between $109,000 and $116,000.
Leave entitlements for police officers are certainly generous.
Police receive six weeks of annual leave per year, which is two weeks more than most others. They also receive 15 days of sick leave per annum, compared with the standard 10 days.
They are additionally entitled to carer’s leave, extended leave (long service leave), maternity leave (14 weeks paid leave and up to 12 months leave following the birth of the baby), parental leave and various other forms of leave.
Officers may also apply for study leave of up to one week per year to prepare for police examinations.
As at February 2015, there were more than 16,600 police officers working across the state.
As part of its election promises, the Baird Government foreshadowed an increase of 310 new officers.
The risks of the job
While police officers are called upon to deal with dangerous situations, it has been reported that most police injuries are back injuries and muscle strains (4.29 per 100 officers), followed by being hit by moving objects (2.81 per 100 officers).
Mental stress comes in third on the list, with 2.15 of every 100 officers suffering some type of injury in this area.
Many claims by police officers are refused due to lack of evidence, especially claims for psychological and back injuries.
In August 2014, the SMH reported that were 267 outstanding claims with NSW Police’s former insurer; 220 of which related to psychological injuries.
NSW Police who have died in the line of duty have averaged about one per year over the last 15 years, with the last death occurring in 2012.
The bottom line
There is no question that police officers, like nurses, teachers and paramedics, have vital responsibilities and functions that society simply cannot do without.
But the reality is that police officers enjoy pay and conditions that are in excess of most other workers.
And the sad truth is that in the public sector, where the government holds the purse strings, police officers – like teachers, nurses, paramedics and legal aid lawyers – will always have their pay and conditions limited to what the government is willing to set aside.