Stockton police officers make thousands less than their counterparts in nearby cities, a sticking point that has held up contract negotiations between the city and its police union.

Both starting and maximum annual salaries for the department’s rank and file officers and sergeants range anywhere from as little as about $12,000 to nearly $40,000 less than those of departments in San Joaquin County’s four other largest cities.

The Stockton Police Officers Association overwhelmingly rejected a nearly $40 million budget increase during contract negotiations with the city last month, citing pay disparity as one of the main issues. 

Lower pay has also been cited as a leading reason for the department being unable to recruit and retain staffing levels. As of Monday, police spokesperson Joe Silva said the department currently employs 393 sworn officers, though it’s considered fully staffed at 485.

“If they begin their career here, (officers) are maxed out on pay and benefits within five years,” Newly-minted SPOA President Patrick High said. “And somebody that’s been here for 25 years makes the same amount as the person that was here for only five years, because there’s no longevity pay.”

After nearly seven months of negotiations, SPOA’s membership, which consists of the Stockton Police Department’s rank and file officers and sergeants, voted by about 80% to reject the city’s most recent offer. The union’s previous contract with the city officially expired July 1. 

“The city’s offer will do absolutely nothing to attract or retain officers in one of the busiest cities in California,” the union said on its Facebook page last month following the vote.

SPOA says that department salaries are currently 34% less than comparable cities, though the city disputes that number.

“We acknowledge the department is below market but don’t agree to what extent the SPOA has cited,” City Manager Harry Black said earlier this week.

A salary survey of police departments in 15 to 20 cities, all varying in size, demographics and geography, was conducted earlier in the negotiations process, Black said. The city says the survey found that Stockton police officers were actually being paid 20% below the market average.

However, SPOA Vice President Jeremiah Skaggs explains the city is basing that number off what these departments’ salaries were as of January. Many have since approved new contracts with their respective cities and the union’s numbers are current as of June, he said.

Looking at the county’s five largest cities — Stockton, Tracy, Lodi, Maneca and Lathrop — shows that officers would receive a significant pay bump in switching departments. 

Stockton officers start out at an annual salary of nearly $73,000 and max out at just over $93,000. That’s about $12,000 and nearly $30,000 less than the next closest cities of Lodi and Manteca, respectively. 

Manteca pays its officers the highest maximum salary at nearly $122,500, while Lathrop pays the highest starting wage at more than $92,000. 

When comparing compensation for sergeants, Manteca pays the most in terms of both starting (just over $122,500) and maximum salaries (nearly $149,000). Stockton’s sergeants make the least, with starting and maximum pay less than $10,000 to the next closest department. 

Stockton’s population is also significantly larger than each of the cities compared. 

High says that Stockton officers can only get a pay increase by ranking up, noting that even going into a specialized field within the department, such as becoming a fraud or homicide investigator, generally doesn’t guarantee you a pay raise. 

Though, SPOA’s previous contract with the city does allow additional incentive pay increases for both Stockton officers and sergeants who earn Peace Officer Standards Training certificates.

Stockton police officers were already paid at a market disparity before the financial crisis, Black said, which in turn only got worse after the city declared bankruptcy in 2012. No matter what number is used — 20% or 34% — the city’s most recent offer reduces the pay gap by either 75% or more than 50%. 

The Stockton Police Department’s contract with the city officially expired on July 1. (COURTESY OF CVTV)

It will take more than one cycle to fully correct but the city’s goal is to ultimately reduce officer pay disparity to zero by the next negotiation cycle, Black said. 

“This particular contract will go a long way to getting us very, very close,” he said of the city’s most recent offer to the SPOA, describing it as “the most generous” in Stockton’s history. 

The proposed contract would consist of a $39.5 million budget increase over the next three years, which includes an overall 6% increase in contributions to health care costs, 16% cost of living adjustment and a one-time $5,000 bonus. 

Both the SPOA and the city say they are looking to come to an amicable solution. High says the union will meet with the city again July 20.

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  1. I’m not sure if this is even feasible, but can state funds be applied to make up the difference?

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