The Chief
March 1, 2002

PBA Hits Detective Promotions in ESU

Sees Bargaining Breach

By William Van Auken

The Patrolmen's Benevolent Association will be going into Manhattan State Supreme Court this week seeking an order of contempt against the city and the Police Department over the Feb. 20 promotions of 15 Police Officers in the Emergency Services Unit to the rank of Detective Specialist.

The NYPD has brushed off the union's challenge, calling the promotions a well-deserved reward for a group of officers who suffered the most severe casualties in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. The PBA, however, insists that Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly has revived an illegal tactic employed by his predecessors to circumvent collective bargaining and the civil service merit system.

Cite Seniority

The 15 officers given the Detective Specialist designation were selected from the 465 ESU cops based on seniority, an NYPD spokesman said. He defended the promotions as within the discretionary powers of the Police Commissioner.

"Fourteen of the 23 police officers killed on Sept. 11 were from the Emergency Service Unit. ESU cops are often the first to respond to the most dangerous situations, and they're the best in the world at what they do," said the NYPD's Deputy Commissioner for Public Information, Michael O'Looney. "Commissioner Kelly is happy that these officers have been recognized for their hard work and dedication."

PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said that the union believes that all ESU cops deserve additional compensation, but said that the Commissioner's action violated a court order barring the promotions and circumvented the necessary negotiation with the union on how such compensation should be made.

 "Who's to say that it won't be 20 or 50 or more who are made Detectives?" said Mr. Lynch. "What if the administration changes and the next Commissioner doesn't believe in this? That's why you set down criteria to assure that everyone is treated fairly."

Police Officers who receive a Detective designation are transferred from the PBA's bargaining unit to that of the Detectives Endowment Association.

Asked about the union's claim that the promotions are illegal, Mr. O'Looney replied. "The Commissioner would disagree."

The union's claim stems from a legal battle that the PBA waged against former Police Commissioner Howard Safir's attempt to designate 2,000 patrol cops to the rank of Detective Specialist in 1999.

Feared Favoritism

The scheme was initiated after the city's Board of Collective Bargaining struck down a plan by Mr. Safir to award 2,000 patrol officers "Special Assignment" pay in the form of an annual $1,400 bonus. The PBA, then led by Mr. Lynch's predecessor, expressed concerns that the bonuses, which would be given according to recommendations made by precinct commanders, would tend to go to the "Captains' pets" rather than compensating those who were the most effective cops.

The BCB backed the union's contention that the issue was a mandatory subject of collective bargaining.

After Mr. Lynch was elected, the PBA and the department initiated talks on Special Assignment pay, arriving at a tentative accord to distribute the money to 7,220 cops over the course of three years, justifying the differential by requiring patrol officers to complete training in the use of defibrillators. When the union asked that the deal be put in writing, however, the department balked, invoking "managerial prerogative," and announced its decision to make the Detective Specialist designations.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Stanley Parness blocked the move, calling the proposed promotions "an attempt to award a merit increase and circumvent the order of the BCB."

The PBA, which has a clear interest in preventing members from being transferred into the Detectives' union as a byproduct of a merit pay increase, insists that all designations to "Detective Specialist" are illegitimate.

Meaningless Title?

The union argues that the only exception to promotions made based on civil service lists established through competitive written exams is the one allowed by the city's Administrative Code for granting the Detective designation to officers assigned to the investigative functions in the department's Detective Bureau.

The Detective Specialist" title, according to the PBA, has no basis outside of the personnel classifications made by the department itself.

Detectives' Endowment Association President Thomas J. Scotto seemed to agree with the PBA on this last point, urging the department to do away with the use of the subtitles "Specialist" and "Investigator" to differentiate Detectives.

'It's PBA's Right'

"I firmly believe that the PBA has the right to pursue anything that it deems improper," said Mr. Scotto. "I also believe the Police Commissioner has the right to make discretionary promotions to Detective and ranks above Captain, and to assign them to any assignment he chooses."

Mr. Scotto said that his unit currently represents hundreds of Detective Specialists, including members of the Street Crime Unit, who received the designation en masse in 1999, as well as officers doing specialized work such as helicopter pilots and some members of the Emergency Services Unit, even before the recent promotions.

"I understand the PBA's position; this is taking away their members," said the DEA leader. "But there's no other way that the Commissioner can reward a Police Officer for performance. He can't give him a bonus check. In a sense, both sides are right."