The Chief
July 13, 2001

PBA Blasts Cop Class Over Lax Hiring Standards

Mayor Calls Charges About Screening Bargaining Ploy

By William Van Auken

Amid reports that recruitment officers and the NYPD's Applicant Processing Division went to extraordinary lengths to fill this year's Police Academy class, the PBA and other police unions warned that the city is lowering its hiring standards.

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch said July 2 that the union has "serious concerns" about the way in which the Police department screened its latest batch of recruits.

'Danger to the Public'

"Hiring unqualified recruits, or those of questionable character, poses a danger to the public and to other police officers," he said.

Mayor Giuliani and Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik dismissed the union's charges as a public relations effort aimed at pressuring the city at the bargaining table. Talks between the PBA and the city are at a standstill as the two sides continue to battle in the state courts over the constitutionality of a union-backed law placing police impasse bargaining under the jurisdiction of the state Public Employment Relations Board.

Both the PBA and the superior officer unions have repeatedly drawn attention to the department's difficulties in attracting sufficient numbers of applicants for Police Officer hiring exams, asserting that cops' salaries are no longer competitive. They have charged that rather than raise the current starting salary of $31,305 in order to attract more qualified recruits, there is increasing pressure to lower standards in order to fill Police Academy classes.

Calling the administration's collective-bargaining stance "shortsighted," Mr. Lynch added, "If New York's Finest were paid a decent, livable wage, there would be a surplus of qualified people willing to sign up for the job."

"He's trying to negotiate the contract in the press," said Mr. Kerik following a Queens College swearing-in ceremony for 1,541 new rookies.

"This is a union ploy," the Mayor said after the ceremony.

The number of rookies sworn in was just under the 1,589 target set by the department. In the class that entered the academy last ear, the department was unable to fill more than 300 positions.

"They were going to fill this class come hell or high water," said Captains' Endowment Association President John F. Driscoll.

Bending Over Backwards

Capt. Driscoll, a veteran NYPD personnel supervisor, said that the department had taken unprecedented steps to ensure the hiring of rookies who otherwise would have been passed over.

These included requests to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to speed up the naturalization process for immigrant applicants, and the department arranging for road tests for applicants who lacked driver's licenses, a prerequisite for hiring.

"We never did this before," said Captain Driscoll. "If a guy had immigration problems, we'd tell him to go to the INS and clear it up," he said. "And if they didn't have a license, you'd tell them, 'Hey pal, if you want to come on the Police Department, get one.'"

Union officials have also charged that the department rushed through background checks and character evaluations for a large number of applicants. Department officials have acknowledged that some applications were accelerated because of a last-minute change in test scores, but asserted that any unqualified candidates could be weeded out during the seven-month training period at the Police Academy.

'Know They'll Wash Out'

"This means we know ahead of time that some of the people we're hiring shouldn't be police officers," said the Captains union leader. "We're spending taxpayers' money to train a person who is not going to be a cop."

The department confronts a mounting attrition crisis, as well as the threat of losing millions of dollars in Federal Crime Bill funding if it fails to maintain its headcount over 41,000.

Even with a nearly full academy class, recruitment does not begin to balance attrition, said Captain Driscoll. More than 1,200 cops have already put in for retirement this year, while another 300 have resigned, he pointed out. Another 1,300 are scheduled to put in their papers in October, November and December of this year, with another 200 "walk-ins" anticipated.

Harder to Recruit

Meanwhile, efforts by the department to sign up new applicants appear to be yielding diminishing returns. In preparation for a June 23 exam, the department for the first time dropped a $35 filing fee, extended the filing repeatedly and sent recruiters to colleges and military bases to drum up applicants.

In the end, however, barely half of the 12,290 candidates turned up to take the multiple-choice test, which is the first hurdle in landing a career as a cop.

Typically there is a 70-percent pass rate for a Police Officer exam, meaning that approximately 4,700 applications could be expected to pass the test. Out of that, generally between 10 and 12 percent qualify based on education and age and are approved in the physical, psychological and character testing that precedes hiring. Thus, based on the new hiring list, the department could expect to garner at most 560 new cops.

More Exams Slated

Last week, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services announced yet another hiring exam, scheduled for October.

"The problem is that they're testing the same applicant pool over and over again," said Captain Driscoll. "They've got to face reality; they're not paying enough and people aren't taking the job. The department's best recruiters were always the cops themselves, and now they're discouraging people from coming on the force."

Over the long run, Mr. Driscoll added, the department and the city will pay a price for reducing hiring standards. "People used to take about the 'Class of '68,' but I think before long they'll be talking about the 'Class of '01,'" said Mr. Driscoll.

In 1968, faced with widespread urban and campus arrest, the NYPD pressed newly hired rookies immediately into service, sending them out with guns and nightsticks after just days of training. While afterwards the department sought to bring them back for training, NYPD veterans say that the experience in the street overshadowed lessons taught later in the classroom.