Our View: The cost of safety

Our View: The cost of safety
Alexandria Police Department

The old adage “you get what you pay for” is generally true, though most people do love a bargain. Dumpster diving can yield treasures in the form of used furniture or discarded trinkets, but that’s not where we turn for necessities.

Necessities are often expensive, and we’re generally willing to pay more for what we need most. The most basic necessity is safety, for without government-provided protection, life is indeed the Hobbesian description of “nasty, brutish and short.”

Public safety is the first function of government at every level, which is why it’s been so frustrating in recent years to see Alexandria’s police force be underfunded relative to surrounding jurisdictions, with attendant low morale and service cuts. In an era of rising crime rates and increased gang activity, we need more protection, not less.

So, we applaud the work of City Manager Jim Parajon and his staff in negotiating an agreement that works for both the city and the Alexandria chapter of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association under Virginia’s newly reinstated ability for public sector unions to bargain collectively. See this week’s page 1 story, “Council approves police collective bargaining,” for more information on this agreement.

Public sector salaries are readily viewable, and it’s interesting to compare the average salaries, prior to these increases, of Alexandria’s police force compared to other city employees. For example, according to govsalaries.com:

• Alexandria’s new race and social equity officer made $168,033 in 2021, while the highest paid police captain made about $5,000 less.

• Alexandria’s highest paid technical project manager made $146,670 in 2021, which was more than the highest paid police lieutenant.

• Alexandria’s highest paid police sergeant made $111,092 in 2021, less than the highest compensated computer program analyst.

Of course, a city Alexandria’s size needs computer program analysts, technical project managers and even a race and social equity officer – but should any of these people be paid more than the leaders of our police department? That’s difficult to justify when everything else we do – learning, working, playing – depends on being safe.

According to salary.com, the average high school teacher in Alexandria was earning $69,600 as of October 2022, about $1,200 more than the average police officer, who clocked in at $68,400. While teachers are certainly valuable and essential, and high school teaching is becoming more dangerous in addition to difficult, many teachers do have summers off, whereas police officers do not. We would argue that both high school teachers and police officers should make more than they do.

It’s important for residents to actively think about what’s most important to them, and where they want to see their tax dollars spent – and to consistently make their voices and votes heard, because the very act of daily living is one long exercise in paying taxes to government at all levels. We pay taxes on:

• the toothbrush we use in the morning,

• the coffee pot where we brew our morning joe

• the gas we put in our cars,

• lunch at our favorite eatery,

• a ticket to see a movie,

• and of course, on our income, home and motorized vehicle.

Yes, we must “give unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” – and we should also vigilantly watch to ensure that our hard-won coin is spent on what’s truly essential. Public safety is worth the cost.