Low police salaries in the Western Balkans risk increasing corruption among police forces.

The main role of the police in a democracy is to maintain public peace and order, to prevent and fight crime and to serve the citizens whose taxes pay for public security. The police provide a service that is often risky and can involve long working hours under difficult conditions. The job can take a toll on mental health, requires endurance and good judgement and a great deal of responsibility including – in exceptional cases – the deadly use of force.

It is worth noting that, although people in the Western Balkans see room for improvement in terms of criminal justice (including fighting organized crime),1 they have a relatively good opinion of their police.2 One would expect that those who are responsible for the safety of citizens would receive a salary that is reasonable in relation to the cost of living, attractive to professional and motivated individuals and sufficient to promote job satisfaction. However, the salaries of rank-and-file police officers in the Western Balkans tell a different story.

Information on police salaries in the countries of the Western Balkans is not always easy to find. The GI-TOC has collected and compiled the information below from a number of sources; it is our best guess based on the available data (mostly from 2021). To facilitate comparisons, the salaries are presented in euros and in net value, after taxes and benefits have been deducted. There is no difference in the salary level between male and female police officers in any of the six countries in the region, since the salary is always linked to the working position within the police.

Country Number of citizens Number of Ministry of Interior employees Number of police officers (with law enforcement authority) Police salaries Number of police officers per 100 000 inhabitants
Basic police officer Senior police officer
Albania 2 846 000 15 109 11 802 €406 €1 401 260
Bosnia and Herzegovina 3 281 000 19 1403 15 7774 €340–460 €5115 481
Kosovo 1 873 000 10 600 8 104 €447–541 €569–1 761 464
Montenegro 621 873 721 4 680 €396 €1 353 502
North Macedonia 2 083 000 12 599 9 953 €380–450 €360–1 380 341
Serbia 8 737 000 41 438 31 313 €440 €2 296 435

Figure 1 Police officers and estimated salary levels in the Western Balkans (2021).

Source: European Commission progress reports 2021

To put some of these salaries into perspective, the minimum wage in Montenegro in 2021 was reported to be €532, €360 in North Macedonia and €400 in Serbia. In 2020, the average salary in Kosovo was €416,6 while the minimum police salary in 2021 was €447. Conditions are even less attractive in Albania, where in 2021 the minimum police salary was 18% lower than the average salary in the country.7 The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina was even worse, with the minimum police salary 30% lower than the average in 2019.8 With rising prices, the minimum wage is often insufficient to cover the basic needs of an average family. In short, the starting salary for a police officer in most countries of the region is unattractive.

By way of comparison, the average monthly salary for police officers in Romania9 or Slovenia are around €1 000 per month,10 while starting salaries of the police in Hungary are not much higher than those of their counterparts in the Western Balkans.11

Salaries increase according to rank, education and the number of years in service. Officers may also be paid overtime for working long hours or undertaking risky assignments. Generally speaking, salaries for the head of the police district are double the minimum wage.

It is worth noting that salaries are generally lowest among border police and relatively high for police working in units combating organized crime. For example, in Serbia (where police salaries have had the highest growth in the region), the average salary for someone working in the border police directorate is €807 per month while the average salary in the unit for combating organized crime is €1 034. In Montenegro, comparable figures are €562 per month for border police and €784 for those working in the unit fighting organized crime.

Police directors across the region generally have salaries in the range of €1 200 to €1 700 per month. Tellingly, the head of the police inspectorate is usually paid a wage that is close to the level of the highest position in the police hierarchy.

Risk of corruption

There is widespread sentiment among police organizations in the Western Balkans that officers are underpaid.12 Police management structures and unions in all six countries are pushing for higher salaries in order to attract and retain good recruits, maintain the professionalism of the police service and reduce corruption.

Although salaries have increased over the past few years, several police unions argue that the profession has become more dangerous and that the work is not sufficiently compensated.13 This forces police officers to seek other, more lucrative jobs in order to sustain their families. It may also include moonlighting in other jobs, like private security companies. But the risk is that underpaid and disgruntled police may be more vulnerable to corruption, conflicts of interest or colluding with criminal groups. A number of recent cases – including those on the border between Kosovo and Albania highlighted previously in this risk bulletin – point to both petty corruption and more serious collusion with criminal groups. This endangers public security and undermines trust in the police.

However, one must be careful about making a correlation between low salaries and corruption. Higher salaries in themselves may not strengthen integrity. Police need job satisfaction, opportunities for advancement and recognition for their work. Furthermore, it is important to have training in ethics, as well as effective and efficient oversight mechanisms to promote integrity. The wages of police need to be attractive and commensurate with the risks and responsibilities involved. As criminals from the Western Balkans modernize their techniques and strengthen their international contacts, police from the region need to do the same.


  1. Regional Cooperation Council, Balkan Barometer 2020, Public opinion, April 2020, https://www.rcc.int/download/docs/2020-06-Balkan-Barometer-Public-Opinion_final.pdf/bf27f9fc10de8a02df9db2b60596f0cd.pdf

  2. Center for Insights in Survey Research, Western Balkans regional poll, February–March 2020, https://www.iri.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/final_wb_poll_for_publishing_6.9.2020.pdf

  3. All figures for Bosnia and Herzegovina are from 2019. This is the total number of police in the Federal Ministry of Security and Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Srpska, as well as police officers from the cantons and the judiciary police. 

  4. Estimated number of police officers, following the ratio in the EC progress report for Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2021. 

  5. The figures for the police salaries in Bosnia and Herzegovina are from 2019. Policajci iz BiH se bune zbog malih plaća, uputili zahtjeve, evo koliku osnovicu traže, Radio Sarajevo, 25 February 2022, https://radiosarajevo.ba/vijesti/bosna-i-hercegovina/policajci-iz-bih-se-bune-zbog-malih-placa-uputili-zahtjeve-evo-koliku-osnovicu-traze/448454

  6. Kosovo Agency of Statistics, Statistikat Sociale: Niveli i pagave në Kosovë 2020, Ministry of Finance, Labor and Transfers, https://ask.rks-gov.net/media/6030/niveli-i-pagave-n%C3%AB-kosov%C3%AB-2020.pdf

  7. Institute of Statistics of Albania, Statistikat e Pagave, Tremujore IV/2021, 10 March 2022, (http://www.instat.gov.al/media/9660/pagat_press_release-t4_-2021-altcom.pdf)

  8. Average Monthly Net Salary in Bosnia and Herzegovina is 945 BAM, Sarajevo Times, 16 March 2020, https://sarajevotimes.com/average-monthly-net-salary-in-bosnia-and-herzegovina-is-945-bam/; Average net salary in Bosnia amounts to €500 in October 2021, N1, 20 December 2021, https://ba.n1info.com/english/news/average-net-salary-in-bosnia-amounts-to-e500-in-october-2021/

  9. Average Salary In Romania, Career Explorer, 11 January 2022, https://careerexplorerguide.com/average-salary-in-romania/

  10. Police Officer Average Salary in Slovenia 2022, Salary Explorer, https://www.salaryexplorer.com/salary-survey.php?loc=198&loctype=1&job=504&jobtype=3

  11. John Woods, Hungarian police officers’ starting salary is lower than 520 EUR/month!, Daily News Hungary, 11 May 2022, https://dailynewshungary.com/hungarian-police-officers-starting-salary-is-lower-than-520-eur-month/

  12. Oznaka: Niske plate policijskih službenika, Raport, https://raport.ba/tag/niske-plate-policijskih-sluzbenika/

  13. Protest policijskih službenika u BiH: ‘Prosječna plata nam je 665 KM’, Fokus, 17 March 2021, https://www.fokus.ba/vijesti/bih/protest-policijskih-sluzbenika-u-bih-prosjecna-plata-nam-je-665-km/2021136/