The Chief
September 12, 2003

Cop Unions: NYPD Has Staffing Crisis

Urge Immediate Hirings

By Reuven Blau

The Police Department’s headcount will continue to shrink and crime will rise if the department doesn’t hire more officers this year, police union officials asserted last week.

The department’s uniformed headcount as of Aug. 31 was 36,967, which includes the 1,485 recruits in the Police Academy. That class, however, is not scheduled to graduate until late December. The NYPD does not plan to add another class – of roughly 1,500 offices – until next summer.

Not Keeping Pace

Union officials insist, however, that the department must act sooner to offset the record number of cops projected to retire and the growing tally of those resigning each year without qualifying for a pension. Just 14 months ago, headcount was 38,427, which was 2,300 less than at the NYPD’s peak strength late in the Giuliani administration.

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly claimed late last month that the new recruits would enable the department to keep its current headcount. The NYPD declined to comment last week on the unions’ claims.

According to department statistics, the NYPD has lost more than 7,600 officers over the past two years. Roughly 55 percent of them retired, 27 percent resigned, and the rest left because of accidental and job-based disabilities.

“There is an inordinate amount of Police Officers retiring after 20 years,” said Michael D. Welsome, the Executive Director of the Police Pension Fund. He noted that classes from July 1983 and January 1984 each had roughly 1,500 to 2,000 cadets, many of whom the department must now replace.

“We are beyond a crisis situation,” said Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch. “When you look at the number of officers and factor in the anti-terrorism work, there are simply not enough cops. You will in time see all crime go up.”

Captains’ Endowment Association President John F. Driscoll said that by the end of the year the department headcount will be roughly 35,000. “They are retiring quicker than they ever did before,” Mr. Driscoll said, referring to the 465 Captains he represents.

20 Years and Out

Mr. Driscoll noted that in 1979, officers with over 20 years of service made up 19 percent of the force. In 1989 that number was 14 percent, and by 1999 it dropped to 4 percent. Less than one percent of the current force has over 20 years’ experience, according to NYPD statistics. “More and more people are just putting out their resumes, and as soon as they get a job they leave,” Mr. Driscoll said.

One of the reasons that officers don’t stay much longer than 20 years is that they are afraid of losing their pension if they are fired, according to Mr. Driscoll. “We call it pension roulette. A judge taking bribes still gets his pension but an officer fired for administrative reasons loses his?” he asked incredulously.

The NYPD has justified the declining headcount by noting that crime has continued to drop despite a smaller force. PBA officials, however, contended that the department’s statistics are being manipulated and that crime is beginning to creep upwards.

“Officers citywide are afraid to bring in felonies because they know they are going to be knocked down to misdemeanors,” PBA spokesman Al O’Leary charged, “If New York City doesn’t wake up to this, then our streets are going to go back to what they looked like in the 1980’s.

Mr. Lynch argued that the department should spend less money on recruitment campaigns and more on officer wages. “They cannot correct the problems until they correct the salary inequity,” he said.

Extend Test Filing

The Department of City-wide Administrative Services recently extended filing for the upcoming Police Officer exam until Nov. 14. The NYPD has decided to hold two tests each year, canceling one scheduled exam.

Police officials acknowledged that filing periods in the summer were problematic. “The fall is a better recruiting period for us because college students are our primary targets,” said Deputy Inspector Martin Morales, the NYPD’s commanding officer for recruitment.

In addition, DCAS is considering eliminating the $25 filing fee in an attempt to garner more candidates. “However, DCAS is still analyzing and discussing this issue, and a decision has not yet been reached,” said agency spokesman Warner Johnston. The fee was recently reinstated after being removed in June 2001.