The Chief
November 30, 2001

City Cops Tempted by Offers of Out-of-Town Depts.

From Vegas to Fla., Recruiters Luring Unhappy 'Finest'

Sept. 11 Attack, Low Pay Lead Cops to Wander

By Mark Daly

Recruiters from out-of-town law-enforcement agencies say they are getting an increasing number of calls from New York City cops seeking jobs elsewhere.

The events of Sept. 11 are on the callers' minds, said recruiters from Florida, Nevada and Baltimore, who have received an influx of inquiries since the terrorist attacks.

An Itch for Vegas

"I had so many calls last Friday with the heavy New York accents, I thought somebody was pulling a trick on me," said Sgt. Victor Vigna, a recruiter with the Las Vegas Municipal Police Department.

With police contract talks in New York currently stalled, the higher salaries some other cities offer are ever more tempting. Side benefits are a factor as well: Sun Belt cities that offer comparable salaries have long touted their warmer climates and cheaper housing to East Coast cops in advertisements in law-enforcement magazines, in help-wanted ads, and in recruiting pitches to students. But now, some of these departments have found they are considered havens by cops seeking to transfer out of a likely target zone for terrorists.

"One guy who called me from New York said after Sept. 11, his girlfriend broke up with him. She said she didn't want to be married to a Police Officer and she wouldn't be his beneficiary," Sergeant Vigna said. "He decided after that he wanted to be in different department."

Life in the NYPD has changed drastically, and perhaps permanently, in the wake of Sept. 11. In addition to coping with the horrific deaths of 23 officers in one day at the World Trade Center - the largest loss in life in law-enforcement history - cops have been required to work extended tours, maintain constant vigilance on city streets, and respond to daily reports of anthrax and bomb scares.

Incentive to Retire

There are other powerful incentives pushing cops out the door, officials in New York, say. The overtime hours required at the NYPD beginning on Sept. 11 have boosted the annual pay figures on which pensions are based. Veteran cops could see their future pension incomes decrease if they stay on the force longer and their overtime hours return to normal levels, officials say.

According to police union officials, more that 500 cops put in their retirement papers in October - a 75 percent increase over the rate during the same month last year. At least 15,000 officers will become eligible to retire in the next five years.

Most smaller cities do not set a maximum hiring age for Police Officers, which helps them attract career-changers. Education thresholds, such as college requirements, are generally lower outside New York.

Higher Pay Elsewhere

Plus, as every cop knows, the salaries in New York are already lagging behind other places, including the city's neighboring suburbs, Police Officers at the NYPD start at $31,305, which is so far behind nearby jurisdictions that the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association has cited Newark rather than the better-paying Long Island departments to make its case for a big raise. The contract dispute, between the city and the PBA, now in its second year, is unlikely to be resolved until after Mayor elect Michael R. Bloomberg takes office in January.

The NYPD already had had to pull out many stops in its recruitment programs to maintain an applicant pool large enough to cover turnover in the 40,000-member force. Exams have been held more often and at more convenient times, and filing fees have been waived. Earlier this year, the city lowered the hiring age by one year, to 21, to attract more college students.

Outside Competition

There are now signs the city is facing competition from distant jurisdictions that offer comparable salaries but a higher quality of life.

Some police departments see bright prospects in New York, "I think we're looking to make it a significant source," said Cathy Cipot, the new director of recruitment at the Broward County Sheriff's Office in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. The county will be sending a five-person recruiting team to New York on Dec. 4 and 5 to attend a career fair at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Although its starting salary of $27,000 is below what the NYPD pays rookies, after six years of patrol reach top pay of $64,000, more that 30 percent higher than maximum salary for city cops.

As a former Long Island resident and Manhattan commuter, Ms. Cipot knows the appeal Florida has for natives of the frozen north. "We've heard that a lot of people are interested in making a change," she said. "We had some deputies recruited from that area and they told us they were attracted to the quality of life and that it was more affordable here. Plus, a lot of people have family down here."

Need 100 More Deputies

In 2002, Broward County is looking to hire nearly 100 deputies for road patrol and detention services. The 4,000 member department will open its fifth jail in January 2003, and has added patrol at the county's airports and seaports since Sept. 11.

The county's most enthusiastic pitchman is a former New Jersey cop, Martin Katz, who fled the small town department in Livingston, NJ in 1983 and is now a Sergeant. "I got tired of directing traffic in the snow, and the opportunities were not that promising. You basically had to wait for someone to get old and die to get promoted," the 49 year-old said.

In Florida, Mr. Katz worked on SWAT teams and narcotics investigations, and became a general instructor at the training academy. At this point in his career, he said, "I'm almost an adjunct professor, and I'm building up more skills for when I retire."

Sergeant Katz made a point of mentioning that Broward County gives each road patrol officer their own vehicle, which they can use at work and at home. Free gyms are kept open 24 hours a day for all deputies, he added.

It all adds up to a bright picture for recruits, "I wear a short-sleeved shirt all year round. When I was working undercover narcotics, my car was a 300ZX," Sergeant Katz said.

Las Vegas drew notice two years ago when it held written tests at John Jay for potential recruits. The department has focused since then on recruiting in California, but it continues to get calls from New York.

Despite having no East Coast outreach program beyond an outdated Web site, word about the department's new lateral transfer program seems to have gotten out, Sergeant Vigna said.

Can Start at $40G

Under the program, Police Officers who switch to Las Vegas after three years on another force can earn $40,466 in their first year. The training for lateral transfers is shorter, about 12 weeks, and is more like college than boot camp, Sergeant Vigna said.

Not every city claims to seek out New York's Finest. "We don't target New York City cops when we come there. We're looking for people who are willing to relocate," said Sgt. Sherina Long, a supervisor in the Baltimore Police Department's recruiting section.

However, "New York does seem to be a place that people don't mind relocating from," she added. "I can't imagine living off $31,000 in New York City."

Tout Other Assets

The salaries in Baltimore are comparable to those in New York City. Police Officers start at $31,800 a year and can earn $45,800 after six years. The department touts the city's lower cost of living and a home-ownership program in which the city picks up half the cost of house purchased in targeted neighborhoods. The department will be holding a written test for applicants at John Jay during the career fair.

Sergeant Long said her recruiting team shared a telling story with her after they returned from a trip to New York last month.

On their way out of town in their Baltimore Police Department van, they were flagged down by a uniformed officer. "They thought it was an emergency, but when they rolled down their window, the guy said, "I need to get your card. I want to apply.' I don't know if that was related to Sept 11, but he obviously had a need," Ms. Long said.