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Alaska GOP chair backtracks on comment that police work isn't dangerous, stands firm on excessive pay

Craig Medred
Alaska Republican Party Chairman Peter Goldberg. Loren Holmes photo

Alaska Republican Party chairman Peter Goldberg said Tuesday he regrets suggesting Anchorage police and firemen do not face dangers on the job, but stood by the position that their salaries are too high and a legitimate matter for public discussion.

Goldberg's views on the salaries of public employees attracted more than a bit of attention earlier Tuesday when Anchorage radio talk-show host Casey Reynolds of "The Casey Reynolds Radio Show" reported on his Facebook page that the party chairman had sent an "insane email ... to Assemblyman Bill Starr about the Mayor's labor code rewritten."

The average national salary for a policeman, Goldberg said, is $55,010. The starting salary in Anchorage is $64,251. The top-paid patrolman, he said, makes $126,442 -- not counting overtime. That salary is about equal that of a brigadier general in the U.S. Army.

Anchorage police, he said, are the third-highest paid in the nation, trailing only New Jersey and California.

In that email, Goldberg -- who lives in Starr's Eagle River district -- urged his assemblyman to stand firm behind efforts to limit the salaries of public employees.

"The salaries that some of our municipal employees receive is absolutely absurd. In particular, the police and firemen are WAY overpaid," Goldberg wrote. "I don't buy the argument that their job is dangerous. Their pay dwarfs that of the average soldier who is far more likely to be shot at. Some of our police have retired pay that is much higher than military colonels and generals."

A retired U.S. Army colonel, Goldberg has experience with dangerous military jobs. He oversaw an international force trying to bring peace to Kosovo in 2005.

"It was my organization's job to keep track of the pulse in Kosovo and keep the commander -- (first) a German and then a French lieutenant general -- informed as to what to expect," he said in an email. "The month before I took the job, there were riots wherein slightly more than 100 people were killed and over 900 homes destroyed. It was a potentially dangerous place. We never left our base without weapons and body armor."

Goldberg, who was at the time supervising 50 to 60 people, earned about $110,000 at the time. There are now Anchorage police sergeants making more, and their jobs -- statistically -- are not that dangerous.

Policing, while risky, fails to make the list of the 10 most dangerous jobs in the country, according to CNN, which ranked several other regular Alaska jobs high on that list.

Logging, commercial fishing and flying commercial aircraft were Nos. 1, 2 and 3. The average salaries for the first two are about half the starting salary for an Anchorage policeman.

Rounding out the list of top-10 most dangerous jobs are roofers, ironworkers, sanitation workers (who average only $22,560 per year), electrical linemen, truckers, farmers and ranchers, and construction laborers. The only ones earning more than the starting salary for an Anchorage Police Department patrolman are airline pilots, who average $92,060 per year.

Despite being right about the statistical dangers of policing, Goldberg said he regrets any suggestion the jobs of police and firemen are not dangerous, because they can be. And more so because, as state Republican party chairman, he should have stayed out of this dust-up.

"That was wrong," he said. "I was not speaking for the party."

He went on another talk show -- The Dave Stieren Show – Tuesday afternoon to make apologies for what he'd said.

"The police do, in fact, have dangerous situations they deal with," he said in a later phone interview. "I would rather not to have jumped in (to this.) Hopefully, I put an end to it on Dave Stieren. Hopefully, I won't get a ticket on the way home."

Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com