After the Ferguson police killing of Michael Brown this summer, police officers from throughout St. Louis County were dispatched there to respond to mounting protests. Though the officers were doing the same jobs, they were paid starkly different wages, some as low as $10.50 an hour, reports NBC News. Data from 24 municipal police departments in St. Louis County show a gulf between police officer pay in poor, majority African-American cities and wealthier, whiter cities. Average annual patrol officer pay ranges from $23,000 in Hillsdale to nearly $70,000 in Town and County and Des Peres.
The police pay gap in St. Louis County is mirrored in metropolitan areas and rural communities around the U.S., with some officers earning a comfortable middle-class living and others scraping by on poverty and near poverty wages, forced to take second and third jobs to cover basic costs. The wage gap affects not only the police officers themselves, experts say, but the communities they are paid to serve. “In areas without a tax base to speak of, where residents live in poverty already, communities are saddled with a police force that is underpaid and under resourced in other ways,” says David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who studies policing. “It's another form of a penalty for being poor.”