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Average Salary: $55,270

Expected Lifetime Earnings: $2,307,000

Pinning down a police officer's salary is like comparing apples to iPads. Wait a second….

Consider that you've got local police officers, sheriff's deputies, natural resources police, and railroad police. Most of these officers are scheduled to work full time, with shift differential pay and paid overtime also part of the equation.

Let's start with police officers' and detectives' annual salary. This group collectively grosses about $55k, with the bottom 10 percent earning around $32k annually and the top 10 percent grossing almost $90k per year. Consider that those figures are tempered by small-town wages vs. big-city wages. Not to mention rookies' starting salaries vs. veteran officers' salaries.

Police detectives and criminal investigators gross almost $70k annually. Railroad and transit police land around $55k. Police officers, sheriff's patrol deputies, and natural resources police gross slightly less, about $50k per year.

Besides their paychecks, police officers often receive a uniform allowance and a generous benefit package. Some departments may also provide financial assistance with law enforcement college degree expenses. Officers can also retire at a younger age than most American workers.

How do the police officers get all these bennies? Well, realize that many metro police officers belong to a local police union or association. In turn, the local union typically holds membership in a national group comprised of many local unions. The national association focuses on legislative issues affecting law enforcement personnel, and may also employ a lobbyist to act on their behalf.

However, the unions have focused a large percentage of their efforts on officers' pension benefits. Although each state may have slightly different police pension structures, most officers can retire with a “full pension” after 30 years on the force. Speaking generally, that means a retiring 30-year officer gets all his regular health care benefits, plus he can retire on 80 percent of his last year's salary. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, doesn't it?

Here's a real-life example of how a lucrative police pension can work. Let's say you join the city force at age 22, and retire at age 52 with 30 years on the clock. With today's longer lifespans, it's reasonable to expect that you could live another 30 years. That means a lot more golf games, Caribbean cruises, and trips to see the grandkids...all while you're collecting your monthly pension check.

Speaking of that check, since you made $100k during your last year of employment, you receive $80k annually for 30 more years. You can even land a law enforcement job in another district, or find another part-time job that covers your greens fees. What's not to love?

Yes, you're making out pretty well here. However, from the city's perspective, your $50k salary represents only part of their financial obligation to you, Mr. (or Ms.) Police Officer. The city has to stockpile enough cash to cover your pension and health benefits for 30 more years. Because many cities continue to experience budget difficulties, city bean counters are looking for more ways to decrease annual cash outlays.

In a somewhat radical move, these cities are beginning to outsource police officers to private firms. While city residents theoretically don't notice any difference in police coverage, the city doesn't have to accrue and pay pension benefits to these contract employees. Existing police pension benefits could also be affected in the future.

Obviously, the police unions don't agree with this approach, opposing any effort to cut or eliminate police pension benefits. From the city's viewpoint, however, reducing officers' pension costs is just another cost reduction strategy; sort of similar to red-light cameras and other technological surveillance equipment that also help reduce operations' expenses.