Law enforcement is a career that is always in the public eye, whether it’s for heroic reasons or scandal. It’s a profession that more than 900,000 Americans hold, knowing full well the hazards associated with their occupation. In the past 10 years, for instance, more than 1,500 police officers, including 158 in 2018 alone, died in the line of duty. Tens of thousands more were assaulted and injured.

Because of such risks, law-enforcement agencies must offer enough incentives to attract and retain officers. So what qualities define a good place to live and work for police? To start, there’s a $63,380 mean annual wage that exceeds the $51,960 for all occupations. On top of that, there’s typically a generous benefits package that can include retirement-contribution matches, tuition assistance, ample leave time, a take-home vehicle, and access to health and fitness facilities. Officers also may begin drawing full retirement benefits as early as age 40, depending on when they entered the force.

Beyond financial perks, officers are more likely to be attracted to police departments that steer clear of scandal and corruption and that are transparent with their communities. Public opinion on police remains divided, with younger people and minorities rating them much less positively than older caucasians. Naturally, police departments that have better relations with the areas they patrol are more attractive to new officers.

In order, therefore, to determine the best states in which to pursue a law-enforcement career, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across 27 key indicators of police-friendliness. Our data set ranges from median income for law-enforcement officers to police deaths per 1,000 officers to state and local police-protection expenses per capita. Read on for our findings, commentary from a panel of researchers and full description of our methodology.

Main Findings

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Best States to Be a Cop

Overall Rank
(1=Best)

State

Total Score

‘Opportunity & Competition’ Rank

‘Job Hazards & Protections’ Rank

‘Quality of Life’ Rank

1 New York 60.19 4 11 10
2 Maryland 58.73 9 10 5
3 California 58.40 2 6 34
4 New Hampshire 56.23 25 9 2
5 Indiana 54.50 5 25 17
6 North Dakota 54.22 19 23 1
7 Minnesota 53.86 6 16 25
8 Massachusetts 53.76 3 12 43
9 New Jersey 52.90 15 2 36
10 Connecticut 52.80 39 4 8
11 Illinois 52.77 7 27 9
12 Nebraska 51.12 16 7 37
13 South Dakota 50.53 49 3 6
14 Rhode Island 50.14 45 1 24
15 Vermont 50.12 14 5 42
16 Iowa 49.97 18 15 27
17 Virginia 49.35 11 8 48
18 Kansas 48.54 32 38 3
19 Colorado 48.43 8 29 31
20 Oregon 48.02 38 13 26
21 Texas 48.00 12 31 19
22 Florida 47.97 23 36 7
23 Missouri 47.94 10 24 38
24 Pennsylvania 47.91 33 14 30
25 Maine 47.39 46 17 18
26 District of Columbia 47.09 1 48 35
27 Washington 46.83 27 18 33
28 Hawaii 46.69 28 35 16
29 Ohio 46.42 20 26 28
30 Mississippi 46.26 42 21 14
31 Michigan 45.71 22 34 21
32 North Carolina 45.45 13 20 44
33 Montana 45.44 21 37 22
34 Nevada 43.94 43 32 13
35 Delaware 43.90 47 19 20
36 Wyoming 42.34 29 28 41
37 Idaho 41.52 34 22 46
38 Utah 41.42 50 33 11
39 Alabama 41.36 24 49 15
40 West Virginia 40.94 36 50 4
41 Wisconsin 40.73 40 40 23
42 Alaska 40.42 17 45 32
43 Oklahoma 39.34 48 44 12
44 Georgia 38.79 37 30 49
45 Tennessee 38.48 31 39 47
46 South Carolina 37.75 35 43 39
47 Arizona 37.09 41 47 29
48 New Mexico 36.27 30 46 45
49 Kentucky 33.43 51 41 40
50 Arkansas 32.38 44 42 51
51 Louisiana 31.69 26 51 50

 

Ask the Experts

The future of law enforcement rests in the hands of policy, the availability of resources, and the relationship between cops and the residents they vow to serve and protect. To advance the discussion, we asked a panel of experts for their insight on the following key questions:

  1. What are the biggest issues facing police officers today?
  2. What is the long-term outlook for the law-enforcement field?
  3. Do you think police departments should invest more in technology and equipment or focus more on developing soft skills for use in community policing?
  4. What measures should police undertake to improve relationships with the community, especially in minority communities?
  5. What strategies have proven effective in diversifying the police force so that it is more representative of the community?

Methodology

In order to determine the best and worst states for police officers, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across three key dimensions: 1) Opportunity & Competition, 2) Job Hazards & Protections and 3) Quality of Life.

We evaluated those dimensions using 27 relevant metrics, which are listed below with their corresponding weights. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a score of 100 representing the most favorable conditions for police officers.

We then determined each state and the District’s weighted average across all metrics to calculate its overall score and used the resulting scores to rank-order our sample.

Opportunity & Competition – Total Points: 40

  • Law-Enforcement Officers per Capita: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
    Note: “Law-enforcement officers” includes police and sheriff’s patrol officers, detectives and criminal investigators.
  • Average Starting Salary of Police Officers: Double Weight (~10.00 Points)
  • Median Income for Law-Enforcement Officers: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
    Note: “Law-enforcement officers” includes police and sheriff’s patrol officers, detectives and criminal investigators. This metric was adjusted for the cost of living.
  • Median Income Growth for Law-Enforcement Officers: Double Weight (~10.00 Points)
    Note: “Law-enforcement officers” includes police and sheriff’s patrol officers, detectives and criminal investigators. This metric refracts the evolution of income over time (period 2018 vs. 2017).
  • Salary Growth Potential of Law-Enforcement Officers: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
    Note: “Law-enforcement officers” includes police and sheriff’s patrol officers, detectives and criminal investigators. This metric highlights the income growth (Percentile 90 / Percentile 10) that a police officer could obtain during his or her career.
  • Projected Law-Enforcement Officers per Capita by 2026: Full Weight (~5.00 Points)
    Note: “Law-enforcement officers” includes police and sheriff’s patrol officers, detectives and criminal investigators.

Job Hazards & Protections – Total Points: 40

  • Police-Misconduct Confidentiality Law: Double Weight (~3.56 Points)
    Note: This metric measures whether police officers’ disciplinary records are confidential, have limited public availability or are completely public.
  • Police Body-Worn Camera Legislation: Full Weight (~1.78 Points)
  • Share of Law Enforcement Departments Carrying Naloxone: Half Weight (~0.89 Points)
  • States with Laws Requiring Officers to Be Trained to Respond to Mental Health, Substance Use and Behavioral Disorder Issues: Half Weight (~0.89 Points)
    Note: This binary metric takes into consideration whether a state has or doesn’t have some form of law requiring officers to be trained to respond to mental health, substance use and behavioral disorder issues.
  • Degree of Lethal Force Allowed for Police Use: Half Weight (~0.89 Points)
  • Presence of “Red Flag” Laws: Full Weight (~1.78 Points)
    Note: This binary metric considers the presence or absence of “Red flag laws” in a state. “Red flag laws” allow the seizure of guns before people can commit acts of violence.
  • Requirement of De-escalation Training: Full Weight (~1.78 Points)
    Note: This binary metric considers the presence or absence of “De-escalation training” in a state. De-escalation training teaches officers to slow down, create space, and use communication techniques to defuse a potentially dangerous situation. De-escalation training provides officers with strategies to calmly deal with people who are experiencing mental and emotional crises.
  • Presence of “Blue Alerts”: Full Weight (~1.78 Points)
    Note: This metric considers the presence or absence of “Blue Alerts” in a state. The Blue Alert provides the means to speed the apprehension of violent criminals who kill or seriously injure local, state, or federal law enforcement officers.
  • Police Deaths per 1,000 Officers: Double Weight (~3.56 Points)
  • Persons Killed by Police per Capita: Double Weight (~3.56 Points)
  • Share of Law Enforcement Officers Assaulted: Double Weight (~3.56 Points)
  • Pursuit-Related Fatalities per 100,000 Residents: Full Weight (~1.78 Points)
    Notes: This metric includes occupants of police vehicle, occupants of chased vehicle, occupants of other vehicle and nonoccupants.
  • Violent-Crime Rate: Full Weight (~1.78 Points)
  • Property-Crime Rate: Full Weight (~1.78 Points)
  • Road Safety: Full Weight (~1.78 Points)
    Note: This metric measures the number of fatal accidents per 100 million vehicle miles driven.
  • Share of Homicide Cases Solved: Triple Weight (~5.33 Points)
  • 9-1-1 Calls Delivered to Local & Regional Answering Points per Capita: Double Weight (~3.56 Points)
    Note: This metric is based on the 2017 National 911 Progress Report and measures the number of 9-1-1 calls delivered from the national 911 control office to primary PSAPs (Public Safety Answering Points), whether answered or dispatch occurred, aggregated at the state level.

Quality of Life – Total Points: 20

  • State & Local Police-Protection Expenses per Capita: Half Weight (~2.22 Points)
  • Housing Affordability: Full Weight (~4.44 Points)
    Note: This metric was calculated as follows: Median House Price / Median Annual Income for Law-enforcement officers; Rental Price of Two-Bedroom Apartment / Median Annual Income for Law-enforcement officers. “Law-enforcement officers” includes police and sheriff’s patrol officers, detectives and criminal investigators.
  • Family- & Singles-Friendliness: Full Weight (~4.44 Points)
    Note: This composite metric is based on WalletHub’s Best & Worst States to Raise a Family and Best & Worst States for Singles rankings.
  • Public Image of Law Enforcement: Double Weight (~8.89 Points)
    Note: This metric is based on an analysis of Twitter users’ posts indicating public sentiment toward law-enforcement personnel.

Videos for News Use:

 
Sources: Data used to create this ranking were collected from U.S. Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Projections Central State Occupational Projections, Council for Community and Economic Research, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, New York Public Radio, Urban Institute, Amnesty International USA, The Officer Down Memorial Page, Mapping Police Violence, Murder Accountability Project, Ballotpedia, The National 911 Program, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, National Conference of State Legislatures, Govred Technology, National Blue Alert System, DrugAbuse.com and WalletHub research.

Image: Sean Locke Photography / Shutterstock.com

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