Highest U.S. rookie police salary is in San Francisco at $112,000—but not even a six-figure sum is enough to entice Gen Z into becoming cops

Fortune· kali9—Getty Images

Becoming a cop was once an attractive career choice and roles in the industry were highly sought after. But in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and increased public scrutiny, the U.S. police department is struggling to hire fresh recruits.

Not even a six-figure salary is enough to compel Gen Z to go down the embattled law enforcement path, the latest figures show.

In San Francisco, the issue is particularly acute, only 26 people graduated from the Californian city’s police academy and entered the force in 2023—down 72% from 2019, marking the lowest tally in at least a decade.

At the same time, San Francisco's officer headcount has fallen 13% since 2020 from over 1,800 staffers to just under 1,600 in 2023.

Right now, there are only 23 trainees enrolled at the police academy, per Bloomberg, and there’s no guarantee that they’ll all even graduate.

In a desperate bid to bolster its force, the city has now upped its salary for new starters to $112,398, the highest for rookie cops in big U.S. cities.

In comparison, police salaries increase to $88,746 after 18 months in Chicago.

San Fran’s not the only city to chuck money at the problem

Although San Francisco is unique—it was the first city to buckle under protester’s pressure to “defund the police” and cut $120 million from the budgets of both San Francisco’s police and sheriff’s departments in 2021—it’s certainly not the only city that can’t seem to attract enough recruits, despite throwing money at the problem.

In Arcata, a remote town in northern California, Ithaca in New York, and Chicago, as much as $50,000 bonuses have been approved to entice prospective new hires to join their forces.

At $75,000, Alameda in California has the biggest sign-up bonus on the market, as well as a hefty starting salary of $113,654 a year—more than $1,000 more than rookie cops can expect to get in San Francisco—but experts in the field say that it reeks of desperation.

“These bonuses sound more like sports teams than a civil service position,” Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum told Bloomberg. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It feels like desperation.”

“Twenty years ago, we would have hundreds of people knocking down our door to be police officers,” added Ted Schwartz, acting police chief in Ithaca, a city of about 32,000 that’s home to Cornell University. “That’s not true in our society anymore.”

However, even if enrollments into America’s police force steadily increase, they will have to keep up with resignations which are coming in thick and fast.

Officer resignations were up 47% in 2022 compared to 2019—the year before the pandemic and Floyd’s death—and retirements are up 19%, according to a survey of nearly 200 police agencies by the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, DC.-based think tank.

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com