To the editor:
As the Alexandria City Council ponders the budget — and the changes to health care and pension plans that will hurt police officers and firefighters — let’s remember those famous words: “We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”
As a former Alexandria police officer, I know what our local law enforcement officials do every day. Over the years my colleagues have been punched, stabbed and shot in the cold dark hours of the night, while we rest easy behind locked doors.
Understanding those risks, our police officers serve without hesitation, because for them, it’s a calling. They will always protect us. We expect this of police officers, yet we provide them with some of the poorest compensation in the D.C. area.
This compensation makes little sense, considering Alexandria’s financial position. According to the Washington Post, the city’s 2011 median household income was $82,748, the 26th highest in the country, out of 3,000 jurisdictions.
Despite Alexandria’s wealthy status, police salaries remain lower than neighboring jurisdictions. The starting salary for Alexandria’s officers is $43,617.60. Prince George’s County’s median household income is $70,715, ranking 69th in the country. However, the starting salary for the county’s police officers is $46,610.
The county’s income is 14.5 percent less than Alexandria’s, yet it pays its officers 7 percent more than the Port City.
Let’s look south to Henrico County. Henrico’s median household income is $58,110, which is $25,000 less than Alexandria’s income. Yet, the starting salary for a police officer there is $43,032, which is essentially equal to Alexandria. It also is shocking that the median price for homes in Henrico is $191,800, while the price in Alexandria is $389,000.
In the proposed budget, police officers are told they will pay a new deductible on health insurance and contribute 10 percent of earnings to their pension (up from 8 percent contributions). Therefore, police are effectively given a pay cut.
The city manager argues he is giving merit increases and lower health care premiums. These improvements are counteracted by the increased pension contributions and the insurance deductible.
The bottom line is that Alexandria police will continue the irony of working for one of the country’s richest cities while receiving one of the lowest salaries in the D.C. area. This is our chance to protect our protectors. Let’s start properly compensating police officers by eliminating the proposed changes to the pension and health care plans.
– Burke Brownfeld