The Chief
February 15, 2002

Kelly: We need Outside Counsel On Recruitment

Low Exam Turnout Caused by Police Pay, Says PBA

By William Van Auken

In the face of a disappointing turnout for the most recent Police Office hiring exam, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly announced last week that the department plans to bring in a full-time outside consultant to revamp its recruiting efforts.

The NYPD has seen itself increasingly whipsawed by a surge in retirements, as members of expanded Police Academy classes from the early 1980's hit their 20-year mark, and a decline in applicants that has persisted despite the deepening recession.

Scrambling to Cope

With 3,777 officers leaving the department last year, the NYPD has faced difficulty filling Police Academy classes less than half that size.

When Mr. Kelly came back to the department after an eight-year absence to begin his second stint as Police Commissioner, he expressed optimism that a tightening job market and the renewed respect for cops after the sacrifices and heroism of Sept. 11 would begin to turn around the department's recruitment crisis.

But the most recent exam, which was held on four separate dates between Feb. 1 and Feb. 10, with another session at the State University of New York in Albany on Feb. 16, did not live up to his expectations. Fewer than 6,000 candidates showed up for the one large exam held on a Saturday, with much smaller turnouts for all of the other sessions.

'We Can Do Better'

"I'm not certain we have gotten the word out," Mr. Kelly said during a press briefing at 1 Police Plaza. "I think we can do better." Last month, in an interview with this newspaper, the Police Commissioner indicated that he would seek pro-bono work by public relations firms in promoting police hiring using the same theme of Sept. 11 to attract interest.

Mr. Kelly has in the past cited the highly successful recruitment drive which he directed in 1993 as evidence of the NYPD's ability to win people to the job. That year the department sent recruiters to military bases and colleges, tutored people for exams and helped walk them through the application process. While the effort produced a list with the largest share of minority candidates in the department's history, it was killed after the NYPD introduced new college credit requirements.

Asked if he believed salaries for Police Officers were a hindrance to current hiring, Mr. Kelly acknowledged that the $31,305 pay for new hires might be too low for some people to take the exam.

He added that he would like to see a reduction in the stretch between the low starting salary and the $52,268 that officers receive in base pay and longevity adjustments after five years.

The low salary for new hires grew out of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association 1988 contract negotiated by then-union president Phil Caruso. The bargaining strategy, dubbed "sacrificing the unborn," was aimed at getting the largest possible salary hike for incumbent members at the expense of those yet to be hired.

Changing this practice is beyond the power, of the Police Commissioner, and would have to be negotiated between the city's Office of Labor Relations and the PBA.

PBA President Patrick J. Lynch rejected the idea that the union should reverse the trend begun in 1988 by seeking to direct whatever it wins in its next contract to raising starting salary.

'Can't Piece It Out'

"We can't piecemeal the contract," he said. "There needs to be a pay raise at all levels."

The PBA leader cautioned that gearing the pact toward starting pay would only exacerbate the department's retention problems and would end up once again victimizing the same group of officers who were saddled with low starting salaries by the 1988 and 1991 contracts.

"It would be a mistake, because the number of Police Officers leaving is growing," he said. "Even if qualified candidates did come to the door because of an increased starting salary, who's going to teach them? This is a job you have to learn from your seasoned officers."

The PBA and the city will begin an arbitration process before the state Public Employment Relations Board on March 18. It will hold three sessions in March, three in April and will conclude with two in early May. The state panel can be expected to render an arbitration award binding on both parties with-in two months after the hearings end.

A Presidential Boost?

Meanwhile, the PBA leader took President Bush's visit to the city Feb. 6 as the occasion to suggest that the large share of the Federal budget proposed for "homeland security" could be used to fund a pay raise for cops.

Mr. Lynch praised the President for declaring his support for pay raises during a speech to first responders, including city police officers, firefighters and emergency medical service workers.

The PBA pointed to the $3.5 billion for local police and other first responders that is contained in a total homeland security package of $37.7 billion proposed by the Bush Administration as potential funding for salary hikes. He also cited Mr. Bush's pledge to provide all of the $20 billion that he promised for New York City in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks.

A separate piece of legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, the "Homeland Defense Block Grant Act," would provide $3 billion in Federal funding to state and local governments to assist them in beefing up police and fire protection. The police union president said that both Senator Clinton and U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer had indicated support for funneling some of those monies into cops' paychecks.

"Some of that money should be devoted to Police Officers' salaries," said Mr. Lynch. "All else follows from what Police Officers do to keep this city safe in terms of bringing back tourism and business and increasing tax revenues."

Appearing to hold open the possibility of a return to the bargaining table despite the upcoming PERB arbitration, the PBA president added, "This is definitely something that should be explored, and it could work if the city and the union put our minds to it."