The Chief
September 30, 2005

Filing is Down 30% for Police Officer Exam

PBA Says Reduced Starting Pay Is Prime Reason

By Reuven Blau

Initial figures from the latest Police Officer filing show that the department may have a hard time attracting thousands of qualifies officers each year with its drastically reduced starting salary.

According to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, more than 20,000 people have applied for the Oct. 29 exam. But based on the past three tests, that figure will eventually translate into only 450 new officers, because just 26 percent of those who apply actually take the test. Also, the NYPD typically hires one out of every 10 candidates who pass the exam.

Says More Time Needed

Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, however, contended that it was too early to evaluate the success of the department’s latest recruitment drive, which ended Sept. 16. “I think we have to wait a little longer to make a judgment,” Mr. Kelly said Sept. 21.

Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, was skeptical. “I think it’s another signal of the huge recruitment and retention problem that the city has been hiding behind for a long time,” he charged.

Mr. Kelly noted that the NYPD, as it has in the past, will mainly rely on pre-existing eligible lists to fill the upcoming class of approximately 1,500 new recruits scheduled to begin training this January. “All these classes are a little different,” he said. “You take from the list, to put a class together. That’s why it’s hard to say now where we are.”

Shortly after the PBA’s arbitration award was announced in June, Mr. Kelly said that it would be a “challenge” to recruit officers at the lower starting salary.

New Pay Structure

Based on the Public Employment Relations Board arbitrators’ award, the starting base pay of new officers was reduced from $36,878 to a pro-rated $25,100 for the first six months on the job. The pay for the next six months, after rookies have left the Police Academy, will be $32,700, for an overall rate of $28,900 during the first year of service. The PBA signed off on that aspect of the award in order to obtain two 5-percent raises for current members.

The approximately 20,000 applicants for the latest filing period marked a 30-percent decrease from the 28,469 individuals who filed for the exam administered in February, and a 43-percent reduction from the 35,000 applicants for the October 2004 test.

“Those filing periods were 101 days and this one was 73 days,” noted an NYPD recruitment official, who asked not to be identified. “I’m not saying we would have reached 28,000, but I think it would have been higher.”

The source also pointed out that the department isn’t able to recruit much at college campuses over the summer. “There are different variables,” the official said.

Figures May Jump

Mark Daly, DCAS’s chief spokesman, said the number of applicants for the exam could “significantly jump” over the next few days because the agency was still tallying applications from people who filed via the mail. “Most people do not apply until the last day,” he added.

Over the past several years, the department has had to fill roughly 3,000 vacancies annually left by officers who retired, transferred to different departments, or left law-enforcement.

In all, 55,638 eligibles have passed the nine police officer exams administered since February 2002, according to DCAS. The Police Department has hired roughly 10,000 officers from those and other lists over that period.

‘Confusing Process’

But it is unclear how many individuals on those rosters took the test more than once. “They test so often that the students are thoroughly confused,” said Dorothy M. Schulz, a Professor of Law and Police Science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “I often wonder [if] the people taking the test are the same over and over, because they are not sure which list will be used.”

Ms. Schulz noted that candidates typically do not know whether they are going to be hired or rejected before the next exam is administered.

Veteran observers of the recruitment process said many eligibles on old lists may now be unwilling to take the job with the reduced starting pay.

During the summer recruitment drive, commercials and print ads touting the job stressed the benefits and advantages of working as a cop. But those ads continued the department’s strategy of not mentioning the job’s starting or maximum pay. “We are obviously emphasizing security, adventure, and promotional opportunities.” Mr. Kelly said.

Calls ‘Max’ Minimal

Mr. Lynch, however, contended that the NYPD’s recruitment and retention crisis will persist until the city agrees to increase the maximum pay rate for officers. “There is no light at the end of the tunnel,” he argued. “We have to fix the foundation of the problem before we can keep building.”

Officers must now work for 5½ years before they reach the maximum pay rate of $59,588. In the past, officers reached the old $54,048 maximum salary after five years. Changes in the pay scale under the arbitration award will mean that cops hired next year will receive $48,000 less during their first six years of service than those who entered the Police Academy this summer.

NYPD officials have argued, however, that its overall recruitment drive has been productive. The department has continued to get several thousand applicants for the three tests it has begun holding in the city each year.

But many of those applicants never actually take the test, and even fewer are ever hired. The decrease in test takers has become more acute with the advent of free Internet filing.

“The show-up rate might be lower, but overall headcount is higher,” an NYPD recruitment official asserted. “At the end of the day we are hiring bodies, not percentages.”