The Chief

December 1, 2000

 

NYPD Asks For $115M More In Cops' Overtime

Condor Flies High As DC 37 Demands Civilianization

By William Van Auken

ROBERT ZINK: 'The more overtime, the better.'

The Police Department cannot continue reducing crime in the city without a controversial enforcement program that has driven overtime expenditures to an all-time high, First Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph R. Dunne told the City Council Nov. 21.

The NYPD has asked the Council to approve a November budget adjustment adding $115 million in overtime funding, the lion's share going to Operation Condor,

Which puts nearly 1,000 Police Officers and narcotics Detectives on the street daily at time-and-a-half for targeted enforcement efforts.

'Condor or More Cops'

"Without Condor, it would be very, very difficult to maintain the decreases in crime," said Mr. Dunne following his testimony before the Council's Public Safety Committee. He added that the NYPD may be compelled to increase its uniformed headcount from the current record high of 41,400 over the next few years.

The committee's chairman, Council Member Sheldon S. Leffler, clearly exasperated at the Police Department's continual request for more overtime funding, questioned whether the Condor program was a means of giving cops what amounts to a bonus to offset the "double zeroes" of the last collective-bargaining agreement.

$5G Salary Bonus?

"That's an extraordinary amount of money," said the Queens Council Member. "It's almost like it was part of the total compensation package for police officers who participate in the program." Given the NYPD's estimate that 20,000 cops received Condor overtime, he pointed out that these officers were averaging $5,000 per year in added salary.

"That is so simplistic," Mr. Dunne bristled. "This is not a scheme to enrich police officers. This is a program designed to bring down crime in New York City."

Police union officials, however, acknowledged that overtime spending represented an important factor in cops' earnings. "Our position is the more overtime, the better," said Patrolmen's Benevolent Association Recording Secretary Robert Zink. "Our guys are trying to make ends meet, and the only problem we hear about it is people saying it interferes with their second and third jobs."

Detectives' Endowment Association President Thomas JU. Scotto also voiced support for the overtime program, saying it had proven effective in eliminating street drug activity. Acknowledging that the overtime money represented a significant element in his members' compensation, he added, "There is a concern there from a union point of view. Your members become accustomed to x amount of money and when it's removed, it hurts."

DC 37 in Opposition

Also testifying at the hearing were officials of District Council 37, which represents most of the department's 10,000 civilian employees. The union voiced opposition to the increased Condor funding, countering that an aggressive attempt to civilianize clerical and other non-police jobs performed by cops could put enough police officers on the street without ballooning overtime expenses.

Begun last January as an anti-narcotics effort in response to drug-related homicides, Condor remains largely focused on narcotics enforcement, but has also been broadened to include quality-of-life crackdowns and taxi and livery details.

The Fiscal 2001 budget included $153 million for police overtime. Combined with the $115 million budget modification request, overtime spending would rise to a record $268 million this year.

Overtime spending has increased geometrically in recent years, rising from $146 million in Fiscal 1998 to $162 million in 1999 and $247 million in Fiscal 2000, according to the City Comptroller.

Tied to Special Events

"While we agree that more can and will be done to control overtime expenditures, we must not lose sight of the important fact that the overtime overrun of this department is due overwhelmingly to policing non-recurring events," Mr. Dunne testified at the hearing.

He attributed much of the department's spending over the past year to events such as the millennium celebration, OpSail, the Subway Series, and the Yankees victory parade.

But, out of the $115 million budget modification that the department is requesting for overtime, between $75 million and $80 million would go to the regularly scheduled overtime tours performed under Operation Condor.

Asked whether the NYPD would come back a third time before the end of the fiscal year for more overtime money, Mr. Dunne replied, "Probably not, but who knows." More unplanned events, he said, could call for additional resources. The money requested this month, however, would cover Condor overtime until June, he said.

Arrests Many But Minor

Operation Condor produced 49,100 arrests between January and June, and more than 69,000 in the first four months of this fiscal year. Critics of the initiative have pointed out that it targets minor offenders, with misdemeanor arrests outnumbering felonies by nearly 5-to-1 and with marijuana possession accounting for a large share.

DC 37's director of field operations, Barbara Ingram-Edmonds, told the committee that the union "is very distressed at recent increases in overtime spending,"

arguing that "a real civilianization plan" in the NYPD could free up enough cops to make an initiative like Condor unnecessary.

The union cited a report issued last year by City Comptroller Alan G. Hevesi listing 1,257 positions ranging from officer clerk to laborer and lawyer that are staffed by uniformed officers, often earning double the salary paid to those holding the appropriate civilian civil service title.

While welcoming testimony by Mr. Dunne that the NYPD had identified 600 "civilianizable" positions in police precincts as well as in the Transit and Housing Bureaus and was auditing its offices at 1 Police Plaza, Ms. Edmonds said that DC 37 believed the number of civilian jobs held by cops could be as high as 3,500.

James Welsh, president of DC 37's Laborers Local 924, said his membership at the NYPD had been reduced from 24 in the mid-1980s to just 13 today, even as the number of cops doing the same job has grown sharply. Uniformed police officers, he charged, are routinely utilized for laborers' work ranging from putting up barricades to stock chores.

"When I've brought this to the Commissioner's attention in the past, the answer has been that the cops are on 1ight duty," Mr. Welsh said. "I have explained to the Commissioner that my people don't do light duty."

"The logic is simple; police officers should not be paid to perform jobs that can be done by civilians just as productively and at less cost," said Ms. Edmonds.

The NYPD's mounting problems in recruiting new cops combined with attrition among its seasoned veterans provides a "window of opportunity," the DC 37 official argued, to begin replacing uniformed members of the department with civilians. The union urged the City Council to use the discussion on the November budget modification to push for stepped-up civilianization. It also called on the Council to demand in budget negotiations for the next fiscal year that the NYPD return to its 1990 staffing ratio of 22-per-cent civilian staffing, and implement a plan to increase the proportion of civilians to 30 percent within three years.

Leffler: A Pay Ruse

"I'm very skeptical that the only way to reduce crime is through these enormous overtime expenditures at a time when you have 41,440 officers," Council Member Leffler told THE CHIEF-LEADER after the hearing. Operation Condor, he charged, represents a means of funding a higher rate of pay for large numbers of police officers through overtime.

"It's a vehicle for giving police a higher rate of compensation than Teachers, Librarians and other public employees who also perform valuable services," he said.

The Queens Council Member did not believe, however, that the Council would challenge the funding request.

"There is a substantial political element in this," he said. "Many Council Members and influential Council Members will not want to second-guess the Giuliani administration on a police matter, particularly as we are approaching an election year."