The Chief

August 11, 2000

 

Unions to Safir: Salary, Staffing Key to Morale

Depleted Precincts Place Stress On Cops' Lives

By William Van Auken

In what some officials described as an impromptu "gripe session," leaders of the five police unions made candid presentations to Commissioner Howard Safir last month on the issues they say have reduced morale the city's cops to the lowest level in memory.

With the expiration of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association contract at the end of July and the exchange of wildly divergent collective bargaining proposals between the largest police union and the city, it was hardly surprising that salary levels - something over which Mr. Safir has little control - were at the top of the list.

Top Brass Gets Earful

In addition to Mr. Safir and the police union presidents, First Deputy Commissioner Patrick E. Kelleher, Chief of Personnel Michael A. Markman and other top- ranking officials attended the 1 Police Plaza meeting.

"The first thing we raised was that they do whatever they can do to get a decent, livable wage for cops, and we worked down from there," said Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch.

The city recently responded to the PBA's contract demands by proposing a lag pay plan, compelling every Police Officer to defer a day's salary for 10 two-week

Pay periods, with the money being paid only on the cop's leaving the force. The lag, a standard opening gambit for the city, is similar to a plan rejected by cops in Nassau County.

"We're hopeful that the city will start negotiating seriously, rather than asking for things back," said Mr. Lynch. "This is not Nassau County; we have a surplus here. Police Officers created it and they want their fair share of that money."

'Pay Hurting Morale'

"Morale out there is not good," said Bernard B. Pound, president of the Sergeants' Benevolent Association. "The department is trying to do some cosmetic things like fixing up stationhouses, but the biggest part of it is the low pay that cops are receiving."

But other complaints targeted less directly economic issues having to do with problems in police deployment and precinct staffing that are bound up with the "pro-active" policing strategies that have been the hallmark of the NYPD under the Giuliani administration.

Mr. Lynch said that manpower in the precincts was badly depleted, placing undue stress on cops. "If Police Officers can't get a day off to spend time with their families, that creates a serious morale problem," he said.

Part of the problem, he said, is that too many cops are assigned to "tracer units," task forces and other specialized units, leaving not enough officers on patrol.

"You need to assign enough Police Officers to the precincts so that you have enough cops to patrol the communities as well as enough so a Police Officer can get a day off and relieve the stresses," he said.

Detectives are facing similar problems as a result of staffing deployment decisions, their union complained.

"A lot of guys in the Street Crime Unit and OCCB (Organized Crime Control Bureau) have put in '57s,' or requests for transfers, only to have them denied," said Detectives' Endowment Association President Thomas J.  Scotto.

'No Transfers Allowed'

Acknowledging that transfers are a matter of managerial discretion in the NYPD, Mr. Scotto said that members of the Street Crime Unit have been given the message that they should not even bother to apply. "It's 100 percent," he said. "You are not allowed to transfer out, period."

Morale in the unit plummeted following the February 1999 shooting of Amadou Diallo by four Street Crime cops and the ensuing wave of public scrutiny and criticism, as well as operational changes introduced by the NYPD.

The changes included the introduction of uniforms in a unit that had utilized exclusively plainclothes cops to take guns off the street. Subsequently, the Street Crime Unit was broken up and assigned to the different borough commands, essentially relegated to the role of another task force.

The lack of opportunity to transfer out of the unit, the DEA president said, has served as another "morale decayer."

"A lot of times people want the opportunity to get into something like the Mounted or Harbor Unit, and to know that because you are assigned to Street Crime you can't do that isn't good for morale," he said.

Squads Shorthanded

Mr. Scotto said that it was nearly as difficult for officers seeking transfers out of OCCB, which conducts the bulk of the department's anti-narcotics efforts.

While Detectives are prevented from getting out of Street Crime and OCCB, the DEA leader said, precinct Detective squads remain chronically understaffed, re- sulting in a work backlog and making it difficult for his members there to take weekends and get other days off. He estimated that between the city's 77 precincts, there are between 400 and 500 Detective slots that need to be filled.

Part of the strain on precinct squads, he added, resulted from an, "overspecial-ization," with several Detectives in each precinct assigned exclusively to domestic violence, gangs or robberies.

Mr. Scotto, however, pointed to a broader policy connection in the problems faced by the different groups of Detectives. "They put a hell of lot more people into the pro-active commands [like OCCB and Street Crime] than into the investigative units, where you wait until the crime comes in and then try to apprehend the perpetrator," he said.

The DEA leader has criticized the "zero-tolerance" policing style, and advocated the introduction of more "community policing" methods. The Detectives in the precinct squads, he pointed out, "are the ones the average guy who walks off the street deals with when it comes to solving a crime."

The solution to the problems of his members, he said, lies in a restructuring of deployment aimed at 'developing a greater balance "between enforcement and public relations."

"Community affairs at this point is non-existent," he said. "The foot patrol cop, who deals with the community  has gone by the wayside: The public's interaction with the Police Department has been reduced to stop-and-frisks, getting summonsed and getting arrested."

To some extent, the DEA may have become a victim of its own success. The union has grown from 6,000 to nearly 7,500 members since the last round of collective bargaining, thanks in a large part to the 18-month rule, union-backed legislation that compels the department to promote Police Officers to Detective after they work for 18 months in an investigative capacity.

Transfer Disincentive

"In the old days, they would have let people transfer and then move new people in," said one police official. "But since the 18-month bill was passed, they have to promote them all to Detective, and they don't want to do that."

Staffing matters were also a central concern for the Lieutenants' Benevolent Association. LBA Vice President William Giblin, who attended the session at 1 Police Plaza, said that "holes in the chart" for Lieutenants assigned to the midnight tour was a perennial summer problem that the department has failed to address.

"Ever since the Louima thing, they've been concerned about having a Lieutenant on the desk, and it's a priority on the late tour," Mr. Giblin said.

In the aftermath of the August 1997 torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in the bathroom of the 70th Precinct stationhouse in Brooklyn, Commissioner Safir issued an order that a Lieutenant be assigned as the senior desk officer on every tour. On the night Mr. Louima was assaulted, a Sergeant had been in charge.

With vacations concentrated in the summer months, the LBA official said, there are increased staffing pressures that result in Lieutenants being shifted from other tours to cover, missing officers on midnight shifts. Under the LBA contract, the department is allowed to make just 10 such tour changes a year.

"It disrupts a guy's life," said Mr. Giblin. "You've got family barbecues and other things planned and then you get switched to midnights."

The LBA suggested that the problem could be solved if the department were to accelerate promotions to the spring of each year and assign the newly promoted officers to borough offices for backup in replacing Lieutenants on vacation.

"The new guy who just took his stripes off will be glad just to have gotten the promotion early," he said. "They won't mind the midnight tour."

'Treated Disgracefully'

The leader of the Captains' Endowment Association, meanwhile, protested the way his members were targeted in the department's investigation into the policing of the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

"The so-called executives charged with bringing up the morale of the troops were treated disgracefully," said CEA President John F. Driscoll. Over 70 senior officers were gilled in connection with the incidents that followed the parade, he said.

Four police commanders received reprimands in connection with the parade and one of them was transferred.

Mr. Driscoll also voiced complaints about the department's delays in making payments into union health-and-welfare and annuity funds. The delays, which he said frequently reached eight to 10 weeks, resulted in lost interest for the union as well as additional costs from carrying retired members as active ones.

"Morale is so low it's off the map," said the Captains' union leader. Retirements, he said, had reached the rate of 11 a day, while resignations from the department have increased by 6 percent this year. Recruitment problems continued, he added, insisting that, despite official NYPD statements to the contrary, the department has yet to assemble the candidates needed for a Police Academy class scheduled to start next month.

"We are close to a crisis mode now," he said. "How can they be proposing a two- week pay lag in the face of a $2.9 billion surplus and a Suffolk County contract where Police Officers out there are going to make what Captains get in New York City?"

The NYPD's Public Information Division declined to comment when asked about any initiatives the department has taken regarding police morale. Union officials described the response of senior officials to their complaints as courteous but non-committal.

"They're all leaving anyway, so they don't care," commented one union official. "What you have here is decision by tenure." Mr. Kelleher has announced plans to retire and take a job as security director for Merrill Lynch, while it widely rumored that Commissioner Safir will leave his post after completing his treatment for prostate cancer.