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April 1996, Vol. 119, No. 4
Larry T. Hoover, Jerry L. Dowling, and Eugene E. Bouley, Jr.
The close affiliation and alliance between police and fire services in the U.S. governmental structure is both unusual and administratively fascinating. Clearly, these two mainstream government services differ markedly in purpose and function. Yet, historically, they have become closely aligned under the rubric of "public safety." Wage parity between the two professions is as old as their creation. Formal police and fire departments did not emerge until the mid-1800's. Wage parity is documented to nearly the inception of this departments-for example, in New York since 1898 and in Detroit since 1907.1 Since 1950, however, wage parity for police and firefighters has eroded steadily, benefiting police, who had been paid less. The contention that parity should be maintained rests on several arguments: firefighting is at least as dangerous and stressful as, and probably more so, than police work; opportunities to supplement their salary with overtime and outside employment are available to police, but not to firefighters; and police enjoy better after-retirement employment opportunities.
This article discusses post-World War II pay developments for police and firefighters. Despite differences in specific tasks, police and fire services are functions of public safety. Indeed, in several communities, police and fire services are combined into a public safety agency. In some cases, this involves merely integration at the top management levels, but in a number of sizable cities (for example, Durham, North Carolina, and Kalamazoo, Michigan), the operational services also are integrated. Integration of the two services is premised upon their broad similarities.
Both services are similarly organized, employing a quasi-military structure and using military titles such as lieutenant and captain. For generations, they have had similar, if not identical, personnel recruitment requirements. Both services involve physical hazards and emotional stress. Because of the physically hazardous nature of the work, the physical stress involved, and the emotional stress, the two services are organized to provide early retirement. Indeed, police and fire pension systems are frequently unified and provide a retirement option at 20 or 25 years of service, rather than at age 65. Numerous State statutes equate police and fire services; for example, civil service statutes and so-called heart-and-lung bills, which establish a presumption that cardiovascular disease among police and firefighter incumbents is job related, are similar in many States. Most importantly, however, police and fire services serve the same ultimate purpose: maintaining public safety and an orderly society.
This excerpt is from an article published in the April 1996 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 D. Lewin, "Wage parity and the Supply of Police and Firemen," Journal of Collective Negotiations in the Public Sector, September 1978, pp. 279-85
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