Where Being a Police Officer Is Rewarding, and Where It's Not

Paul Ausick

Being a police officer in New York City’s borough of Manhattan likely is considerably different from serving in Manhattan, Kansas. Pay levels, cost of living and job safety all figure into the equation, but none weighs very heavily in an individual’s decision to join the police force.

According to a survey of serving officers conducted by Dolan Consulting Group between August 2018 and March 2019, more than three-quarters (78%) said they wanted a career with interesting or exciting work. More than two-thirds (68%) wanted to help people or serve society.

That desire to serve coupled with an exciting career appeals to men and women who already have served society by enlisting in the military. In 2017, The Marshall Project found that being a police officer was the third-most common occupation for military veterans, trailing only truck driving and management. About 19% of police officers are veterans, according to the study, more than three times the 6% rate at which all Americans have served in the military.

Now that the “who” and the “why” are in focus, what about the “where”? There are plenty of choices. A 2018 study by the U.S. Department of Justice reported a 2016 total of 15,328 local police and sheriff’s offices and 50 primary state police forces.

Where are the best and worst cities for police officers to live and work? Researchers at scoured data on hundreds of U.S. cities to construct a ranking system based on four metrics: income, safety, employment and cost of living. Cities were ranked on a scale of 1 to 318 in each category, and the scores were added to give an overall ranking.

The 10 Best and 10 Worst Cities Based on Income

This ranking is based on median annual salary.

Best Cities Salary Worst Cities Salary
San Jose, Calif. $126,690 Hammond, La. $30,570
San Francisco, Calif. $116,830 Jackson, Miss. $34,390
Vallejo-Fairfield, Calif. $116,080 Fort Smith, Ark. $34,490
Santa Rosa, Calif. $112,630 Hattiesburg, Miss. $34,630
Redding, Calif. $109,780 Morristown, Tenn. $35,250
Los Angeles, Calif. $108,640 Sumter, S.C. $35,410
Napa, Calif. $108,640 Florence, S.C. $35,770
Madera, Calif. $104,790 Albany, Ga. $36,310
Santa Cruz, Calif. $104,050 Valdosta, Ga. $36,520
Riverside, Calif. $97,680 Gadsden, Ala. $36,650

Excluding California, which dominated the high-paying cities, the five cities that pay the most are Anchorage, Alaska ($90,500); Atlantic City, New Jersey ($86,650); Chicago, Illinois ($85,970); Seattle-Tacoma, Washington ($85,160); and  New York City ($84,970).

The 10 Safest and Least-Safe Cities

This ranking is based on the number of law enforcement in-service deaths per 1,000 police officers in the five-year period 2014 through 2018.

Safest Cities Deaths Least-Safe Cities Deaths
Rapid City, S.D. none Punta Gorda, Fla. 325.0
Sioux Falls, S.D. none Wichita Falls, Texas 250.0
Providence, R.I. none Sherman, Texas 229.2
Washington, D.C. none Madera, Calif. 226.3
New York City, N.Y. 0.37 Hanford-Corcoran, Calif. 204.8
Boston, Mass. 0.43 Midland, Mich. 200.0
Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn. 0.51 El Centro, Calif. 179.2
Hartford, Conn. 0.54 Sebring, Fla. 173.3
Urban Honolulu, Hawaii 0.56 Yuba City, Calif. 172.0
Chicago, Ill. 0.57 Hinesville, Ga. 168.8

Large cities with large police forces rank better here than do smaller cities and towns where a single death could send the rate soaring. New York City, for example, has 54,670 police officers, while Punta Gorda has 80.

The 10 Best and Worst Cities for Cost of Living

This ranking is based on median monthly rent as a percentage of a police officer’s monthly income.

Best Cities Rent Worst Cities Rent
Madera, Calif. 15.3% Hammond, La. 46.6%
Erie, Pa. 15.9% Salinas, Calif. 45.4%
Decatur, Ill. 16.0% Hilton Head Island, S.C. 45.3%
Redding, Calif. 16.1% Santa Fe, N.M. 44.4%
Champaign-Urbana, Ill. 16.5% Charleston, S.C. 43.9%
Springfield, Ohio 17.4% Jackson, Miss. 43.4%
Janesville-Beloit, Wis. 17.5% Boston, Mass. 40.9%
Wausau, Wis. 17.8% Daytona Beach, Fla. 40.1%
Merced, Calif. 18.2% Hattiesburg, Miss. 39.9%
Kokomo, Ind. 18.2% Brunswick, Ga. 39.6%

The 10 Best and Worst Cities for Overall Quality of Life

Rankings for 318 cities were added and the overall score used to create this list. Low scores are better. Overall rankings include state-level rankings based on the number of officers killed in the line of duty over the past five years and the actual dollar amounts of median monthly rents in the cities included in the survey.

Best Cities Score Worst Cities Score
Pittsburgh, Pa. 377 Punta Gorda, Fa. 1,434
Birmingham, Ala. 387 Staunton-Waynesboro, Va. 1,299
New York City, N.Y. 406 Columbus, Ind. 1,293
Chicago, Ill. 411 Harrisonburg, Va. 1,228
Montgomery, Ala. 427 Cape Girardeau, Mo. 1,186
Toledo, Ohio 427 Manhattan, Kan. 1,186
St. Louis, Mo.-Ill. 432 California, Md. 1,184
Buffalo, N.Y. 443 Midland, Mich. 1,172
Cleveland, Ohio 451 Winchester, W.V.-Va. 1,167
Memphis, Tenn. 459 Gainesville, Fla. 1,166

Notice that New York City, including Manhattan, is among the best cities overall for police, while Manhattan, Kansas, is among the worst.

For more on city crime levels, 24/7 Wall St has identified the most dangerous city in every state.