CHP officers get biggest raise in 20 years as hiring challenges drive up California police pay

By Nigel Duara for CalMatters

California’s state police for the second year in a row will enjoy a salary bump that far exceeds the raises Gov. Gavin Newsom has offered to other public employees thanks to a state law that grants them automatic pay increases.

California Highway Patrol officers are getting a 7.9% wage increase, marking their biggest raise in 20 years. Last year, they received a 6.2% general salary increase. Both are historically high raises for the officers.

Raises for CHP officers by state law are based on the average compensation at five other law enforcement agencies: The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office and the police departments in Los Angeles, San Diego, Oakland and San Francisco.

The formula includes base salary, retirement benefits and add-ons like longevity pay and educational incentive pay. It does not include overtime.

An annual compensation survey released late Monday by the state department of Human Resources found the average take-home pay for those agencies is $118,164 while the average net pay for CHP officers is $109,476.

The new salary increase for CHP officers is expected to bring their base wages up to what the other agencies are paying.

According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the 7.9% increase is the biggest pay bump for the California Highway Patrol since at least 2003, when they were given a 7.7% increase.

Police salaries are increasingly competitive and a source of friction among agencies seeking to fill growing vacancies with a shrinking pool of eligible applicants — sheriffs and police chiefs have said that a significant percentage of applicants fail background tests.

The state, meanwhile, isn’t making it any easier to hire police officers — particularly those who leave larger departments with shoddy disciplinary or criminal records and find employment at smaller organizations. New laws have raised the minimum hiring age of law enforcement officers to 21.

That has led to bidding wars among law enforcement agencies, who use anything from signing bonuses to gym memberships to lure in recruits.

The Los Angeles City Council and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the past year each approved lucrative new law enforcement contracts in the interest of retaining officers.

CHP’s new recruiting plan

The CHP has had its own challenges hiring. Last year, the agency embarked on a hiring campaign called the CHP 1000 in which it committed to hiring hundreds of new officers. Its early ads highlighted pay, namely that entry-level officers could expect to earn $100,000 in their first year on the job.

Newsom in October vetoed a bill that aimed to help the CHP find more recruits. It would have raised the agency’s top enlistment age from 35 to 40.

The CHP union advocated for the bill, telling lawmakers that “raising the maximum age from 35 to 40 will widen the pool of applicants, increase the number of cadets, and ultimately the number of officers committed to serve and protect the public.”

Newsom in his veto message wrote that CHP’s recent recruitment efforts had paid off, with the agency “on track to double” the number of cadets at its academy.

The California Association of Highway Patrolmen, which represents about 7,000 officers, is the only state worker union that does not have to bargain over wage increases because of the law that sets officer compensation based on what other agencies pay.

A bill this year would have given a similar perk to firefighters at the California Department of Forestry and Protection — or Cal Fire. It died in September without reaching Newsom.

The bill would have compelled the state Human Resources Department to calculate wage increases for the 8,000 or so state firefighters every year based on what other 20 local fire departments pay.

The union representing Cal Fire firefighters has said that the state is losing firefighters to other departments because the state has not kept up with competing organizations’ salaries.

Salary increases for California state workers

The biggest general salary increase Newsom has offered to a public employee union during contract negotiations is 4%. That salary hike for the 100,000 employees represented by SEIU Local 1000, is scheduled for July 1, 2025, and the contract allows the governor to knock it down to 3% if the Finance Department finds the state can’t afford the full raise.

Although Newsom has held the line under 4% for general salary increases, his administration has offered a mix of bonuses and special pay raises for workers in hard-to-fill positions to retain employees in a period of high inflation.

For instance, psychiatrists who work in-person at prisons and state hospitals will receive a 15% annual bonus as well as a 135% hourly base rate increase for taking on additional patients. Certain state prison guards also stand to gain $10,000 bonuses under their new contract.

Meanwhile, the union representing scientists who work for the state says it is planning a strike from Wednesday to Friday after three years of failing to reach a deal with Newsom,

The California Association of Professional Scientists has asked for double-digit raises for its members, and has been so far rebuffed by the state.

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