The Chief

January 14, 2000

 

PBA, Safir Spar In Patrol Bonus Fight

Honeymoon Over

By William Van Auken

It is barely six months since Police Commissioner Howard Safir paid a visit to the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association's Fulton St. headquarters and inaugurated what he and incoming PBA President Patrick J. Lynch heralded as a more cordial relationship.

Yet the Police Department and its largest union are clashing once again, reigniting a controversy that contributed to the poisoning of relations between Mr. Safir and the former PBA leadership, headed by James "Doc" Savage.

Balking at Promotions

At issue is a plan to promote several hundred Police Officers on patrol duty in the precincts, Transit Districts and Housing Police Service Areas to the rank of Detective Specialist. The Police Department has defended the move as a means of rewarding superior cops and providing an incentive for them to stay on patrol.

The PBA, however, has thrown a legal monkey wrench into the promotion plans, obtaining a temporary restraining order against the department on the grounds that the Detective designations represent an attempt to override a February 1999 Board of Collective Bargaining decision.

The BCB had ruled that the NYPD must negotiate with the union over what it concluded was an attempt to introduce "merit pay" for 2,000 patrol cops by giving them a "Special Assignment" designation and a $1,400 annual bonus.

While the Special Assignment plans were shelved after the BCB decision, labor-management talks resumed on the proposal following Mr. Lynch's taking office. These negotiations reached an impasse last month over the union's demand that definite criteria for the designation be negotiated and put in writing.

"They said if we didn't take it their way, that they would just promote them," PBA President Lynch said of the talks. "What kind of a two-way street is that?"

Mr. Safir described himself as "mystified" by the PBA's legal action and said the department would appeal the court order. "My goal is to reward good police work by recognizing the very backbone of this police force-the patrol officers who has reduced crime in New York City to record levels," Mr. Safir said.

Papers filed by the PBA Dec. 29 in Manhattan Supreme Court spelled out the union's objections and described in detail the breakdown of talks that appeared to have begun on an amicable note on how to provide monetary incentives for talented cops serving on patrol.

In an affidavit, Mr. Lynch said he first raised the issue with Mr. Safir when the Police Commissioner visited PBA Headquarters July 27. The PBA leader said he objected to the department's already-announced plan to designate selected patrol officers to the rank of Detective Specialist.

Evasive Action

Commissioner Safir responded "that the only reason the department planned to make Detective Specialist designations was because it was trying to get around the BCB order," Mr. Lynch recalled. He said Mr. Safir was "unhappy" with the solution and agreed to discuss the matter with the union.

The first meeting to discuss a negotiated introduction of Special Assignment pay took place Sept. 24 with First Deputy Commissioner Patrick E. Kelleher and Deputy Chief of Personnel John P. Beirne, Mr. Lynch said. Five subsequent sessions were held between October and mid-December.

On Dec. 15 Mr. Lynch addressed a letter to Chief of personnel Michael A. Markman summarizing the union's understanding of the department's proposal. It included $1,600 in additional money for 3,804 patrol officers in 2000, expanding to 7,081 cops in 2001 and 7,220 in 2002.

New Criteria

The increase over the existing $1,400 awarded as Special Assignment pay-which the NYPD has previously granted officers in unique jobs, such as pilots, computer specialists, canine handlers, etc. -would be justified by giving the cops "first responder" status, while requiring them to complete certification training in the use of defibrillators. Other criteria used to select officers for the program would include six years' seniority and an acceptable Central Personnel Index (CPI) rating, the same standard used to evaluate officers for promotion.

The PBA pointed to several areas that remained unresolved, however. These included criteria for taking the designation away from officers or for terminating or curtailing the program. The union leader also raised the issue of "how the agreement will be memorialized."

Chief Markman responded on Dec. 21, stating that the PBA president's letter "grossly misrepresents the discussions," which had been held merely "to place you on notice" of the NYPD's intentions. "At no time did the department waive its managerial prerogative," he added.

Three days later, the Chief of Personnel's Office issued a message to all NYPD commands announcing the department's intention to proceed with Detective Specialist promotions "to underscore the primacy of patrol, recognize high performers in the field ... and encourage members to remain in patrol assignments."

The message informed commanding officers that they would soon receive lists of their "previous selections" for "review and updating." These were the same lists submitted for the Special Assignment designations that were blocked by the BCB.

A source familiar with the talks said that the key issue for the department was the Police Commissioner's refusal to cede managerial discretion in making the Special Assignment designations. Faced with continuing union pressure to provide written guarantees for the program, the department opted for the Detective Specialist designations.

The union countered with its suit, charging that the promotions amounted to a "means to provide merit bonuses to those officers without negotiating with the PBA." The lawsuit continued, "This precise practice-disguising merit bonuses as some form of management prerogative in an effort to circumvent the collective bargaining process" was what the BCB ruled an improper practice in February 1999.

DEA Supports Move

Meanwhile, a union leader who stands to gain a substantial increase in dues-paying members if the department prevails in its promotion policy voiced support for Mr. Lynch's action. "If I were in his shoes, I would be doing the same thing," Detectives' Endowment Association president Thomas J. Scotto said.

The DEA already has more than 1,700 members in the Detective Specialist title, including officers working in the fingerprints and crime scene units and police labs, as well as members of the recently disbanded Street Crime Unit.

Mr. Scotto suggested that the city has a definite financial motive for choosing to make the Detective Specialist designations rather than negotiate with the PBA. "I wish I could say that the city acts as a benefactor when it comes to cops, but everything must first clear Management and Budget," he said. "The city stands to save a lot of money with this."

Cops receiving the Detective Specialist designation would face 16 additional tours a year, Mr. Scotto pointed out, and would see no salary increase until May, because of the later settlement of the DEA contract. They would also be subject to unlimited rescheduling of tours, as opposed to Police Officers, whose tours can be changed only 10 times a year.

Mr. Scotto said the biggest concern, particularly for patrol cops with high seniority, would be the two-tier system that still exists in relation to defined benefits that they receive when they retire. Under the present system, Detectives who were hired after July 1, 1988 would receive only $2,500 a year upon retirement, with $500 increments each year. Cops retiring today, on the other hand, receive $8,000, and those retiring in 2007 will get $12,000.

"If you've got 18 years on the job and have every intention of retiring with 20 years, as long as this issue is not resolved, I would have to tell you in all good conscience not to take the gold shield," Mr. Scotto said