The Chief
September 28, 2007


Nickel-And-Diming New Cops

The substandard starting salary for Police Officers is doing enough damage to the NYPD's efforts to attract new cops and then move them through the Police Academy and onto the streets. So why is the department nickel-and-diming the rookies by forcing them to spend between $59 and $79 for night-sights on their guns?

An NYPD spokesman responded, "This is nothing new," meaning past recruits also had to go into their own pockets to cover the cost of the night-sights. But past classes of new officers were being paid a reasonable wage, not the insult of a starting salary that emerged from a 2005 arbitration award for the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association contract.

Both the PBA and the city share the blame for indicating to arbitration panel head Eric Schmertz that they could live with the gutting of the pay scale for new cops - the PBA because it was the most politically painless way to pay for the 5-percent annual raises the award provided to incumbent cops; the city because it insisted on those savings to offset the cost of the raises, even as it made recruitment for the job significantly more difficult.

And so PBA President Pat Lynch is guilty of grandstanding when he calls for the NYPD to provide the sights for free, particularly since his delaying tactics during the current round of bargaining have made it likely that the next union contract - which is expected to significantly boost starting pay - won't be produced until nearly four years after the old one expired.

But Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, who has frequently decried the slashed pay scale, is not thinking creatively enough if the best the NYPD can offer in explanation of why the underpaid recruits are being stuck with the tab on the gun sights is that this is the way it's always been done.

At the very least, the department should pay a portion of the costs as a way of giving the new cops a discount that reflects their marked-down salaries. The current starting pay of $25,100 is about 62 percent of what they would have received if the 5-percent hikes had been granted without slashing entry salaries; it would seem reasonable to have the NYPD pay 38 percent of the cost of the sights until starting pay is upgraded to a more reasonable level.

The money doesn't even have to come directly from the department's budget. Mr. Kelly could ask the Police Foundation, which covers certain unique expenses for the department, to pick up the tab until the pay issue is resolved. For that matter, he might persuade a certain private citizen who last year gave $165 million of his fortune to charity that what would figure to cost him a fraction of that amount might further demonstrate his interest in both good works and public safety. If Mayor Bloomberg finds his private giving to cultural groups an effective way to go where perhaps the city budget can't, why not for a minor expenditure that makes a statement to the new cops?

The 18-percent attrition rate so far in the current class is tangible proof of the financial strain the low starting salary places on the rookies. Making them feel like they are being gouged by the company store is no way to convince those who stayed that if they see it through, their perseverance will be repaid.