A short exploration of Charlottesville Police Department's personnel expenditures, 2006–2020

Police budgets across the country have grown consistently in recent decades, and Charlottesville’s is no exception. Since 2006, the Charlottesville Police Department’s spending on personnel -- where the vast majority of dollars given to police departments go -- has increased by a third, according to data obtained from the Charlottesville Police Department through an open records request.

Where that money goes under the broad ‘personnel’ banner is perhaps more interesting: Spending on salaries, overtime, and payroll taxes have each grown by about 20 percent. That’s a surprising figure in its own right, but controlling for inflation it’s practically a wash. 

On the other hand, spending on benefits (like health insurance and pensions) has gone up by a whopping 86 percent.

That increase in benefits spending is primarily driven by spending on the police pension fund, where the City has spent more than $34 million since 2006. (In the same 14 years, the City has spent $9 million on police overtime and nearly $100 million on salaries for full-time officers.)

Pension spending as a percentage of full-time salary spending as grown significantly since 2006, too.

Police collect the same pensions as any other City employee as a share of their income, but they -- along with employees of the sheriff and Fire Department -- have two mechanisms for potentially collecting more in pension payments over their lifetimes:

  • Public safety employees have earlier retirement ages than non-public safety employees.

  • Between the date of their early retirement and the date of their Social Security eligibility, retired police officers can collect a Social Security supplement in addition to their regular pension, which effectively boosts police pension payments during that window by 2/3.

The City’s Retirement Commission, charged with overseeing the City’s pensions, meets at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, August 26. Maybe we should ask them.

You can find the data and code used for this report on Github here. I’m bad at Git, so apologies in advance.