They risk their lives every day in the service of New York's citizens. But state troopers - ubiquitous in their blue and gold cruisers on New York's interstate highways - are also well paid for the job, averaging $112,537 for all ranks in 2010, a Poughkeepsie Journal study of state payroll records shows.
When civilian employees are included in the analysis, the average pay for the agency drops to $98,500, still the highest in the executive branch, eclipsing state legislators by 20 percent and state university professors by 10 percent.
What do you think of those salaries? Are they fair for the work Troopers perform, or are they too high given the current economy and state budget woes?
As a group, only Supreme Court and New York City judges, with an average of $140,000, made more than state police officers.
The six-figure average includes sergeants, majors and all other ranking officers and officials above the starting salary; the state's 2,700 front-line troopers themselves earned an average $101,574. Nationally, New York's force is the second-highest earning, according to 2009 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, behind New Jersey but ahead of California, Alaska and Delaware.
Pay is a sensitive issue - two state police contracts expired last March 31 - as demonstrated by the hot-potato response to salary questions. Union representatives demurred to civil service officials, who in turn referred questions to the budget office, which demurred to the state police, which declined comment.
Through a spokesman, Superintendent Joseph A. D'Amico said it would be "inappropriate" to discuss the "union issue" of pay - and referred questions back to the union.
In a statement, Thomas H. Mungeer, president of the 3,400-member New York State Troopers PBA, said, ".(T)he job of a New York State trooper is one of the most dangerous law enforcement jobs in the United States. .(They) should be compensated accordingly."
Since 2003, 11 troopers have died in the line of duty: Three in shootings, six in automobile crashes, and one each from electrocution and a heart attack after a struggle with a suspect.
But given the pay, benefits and wholly state-funded pension of half-salary after 20 years, these are risks many are willing to take. About 15,700 applicants passed the last exam in 2008, according to a state police recruitment web site; since then, just 88 troopers have gone through academy training.
"The question is whether these salaries are necessary to attract the right people for these important jobs," said Robert Ward, deputy director of the Rockefeller Institute, which tracks state fiscal issues. "Most public sector jobs in New York are highly attractive as evidenced by the number of people applying for them and the rarity of people leaving voluntarily."
A former state police investigator from Dutchess County insisted the salaries are warranted.
"It is important for the state police to attract the best applicants they can," said John Crodelle, a 35-year veteran who retired in 1996, noting that many candidates have four-year degrees (though 60 credits, or two years of college, are required).
"The police job is much more dangerous today than in 1961 when I started," he added. "There are many more high-powered weapons ... and the illegal drug problem is much more severe."
Ten candidates are processed for every trooper vacancy, with many candidates flunking background checks and tests of their physical and mental competency. Due to fiscal constraints, no one has been hired since December 2008.
Troopers start their 26 weeks of training at $50,374. On academy graduation, their salary jumps to $66,905, and after one year, base pay is $71,261. After five years, it's $84,739.
In addition, salaries for downstate troopers are enhanced by higher base pay and "location compensation" totaling $5,300 in Nassau and Suffolk counties; $4,700 in New York City and Westchester and Rockland counties, and $1,480 in Orange, Putnam and Dutchess counties.
Overtime accounts for about 6 percent of trooper salaries, or $5,700 in 2010 on average.
Dennis Hallion, executive director of the National Troopers Council, an advocacy group, had two words when asked to comment on New York's state police pay: "Not enough."
Besides the salary, troopers receive generous benefits. Troopers start with 15 days vacation - and get up to 28 days after 21 years. They also are entitled to 13 sick days a year that can be accumulated up to 300 days; on retirement, 165 days can go to pay health insurance and a fifth of the rest can be cashed in.
Add 12 holidays annually, three to five personal days and a $110 bonus to members who stay fit. The state pays to dry-clean uniforms and gives 15 days of bereavement leave. And troopers contribute nothing toward retirement, with the state kicking in nearly 19 percent of state police pay - or $106 million last year.
Police and sheriff's deputies statewide receive average pay of $60,940, according to state labor department figures.
A spokeswoman for the New York State Police PBA, Michele Matteson Crisafulli, disputed that trooper salary was the second-highest nationally because troopers work a 2,184-hour year, compared to around 2,000 hours for other agencies.
"By our calculations, since New York State troopers work more hours than any other state police agency in the nation, we rank 24th in pay in the nation for hourly rates," she said in an e-mail.
She declined to provide the rankings, however, saying they were based on data from the National Troopers Council. But the group's president, Hallion, said he had no such data, and Crisafulli declined to answer further questions.
"New York State Troopers are set apart from other state employees in the hazards they face every day," Crisafullyi said. "Responding to emergencies from one end of the state to the other such as 9/11, prison breaks, riots in cities or on Native American reservations, and the fact that unlike other state employees, our members have a greater chance of not returning home to their families."
In response to the Journal's findings, the Business Council of New York State, the state's major business advocacy group, called on the governor "to get concessions from every union" in contract talks.
"Businesses and their employees across the state are having to tighten their belts every day," said spokesman Robert Lillpop. "We would expect no less from those who serve at the taxpayers' expense."