The Chief

December 3, 1999

Seek Morale Boost for Police Officers

Patrol Bonuses Revisited

By William Van Auken

The NYPD and its five police unions have joined forces in an effort to boost morale among uniformed members of the department. One initiative under discussion could put more money in the pockets of some Police Officers on patrol.

The two sides have agreed to meet monthly to discuss issues that are getting under the skin of officers of all ranks.

Precinct Cleanups

To kick off the effort, Police Commissioner Howard Safir announced that money has been allocated to paint and clean the inside of all of the city's 78 precinct stationhouses as well as Transit District Commands and Housing PSAs. The dreary condition of the houses has long been a sore point with both the police unions and their members.

The effort, which will begin in the spring, is expected to take between three and five years, said First Deputy Police Commissioner Patrick E. Kelleher, who participated in the meeting with the unions. He said that it was the result of Mr. Safir's having lobbied the Giuliani administration for additional funding. In addition to the paint job, the facilities are also to receive a "power cleaning" at least once a year, he said.

Beyond stationhouse cleanliness, the two sides also discussed union concerns over staffing shortages, summons and arrest quotas, and what one police union official called "a threatening atmosphere that exists throughout the department."

While both sides have decried declining morale in the past, they have often disagreed on the reason for cops being in the doldrums. In public statements, the Police Commissioner has frequently pinned the blame on the media for saturation coverage of high-profile cases like the Amadou Diallo shooting, while the police unions have placed greater stress on bread-and-butter issues like low salaries and excessive discipline.

Rank-and-file cops greeted news of the morale effort with some skepticism, indicating that an increase in salary would be the best place to start if the department wants to see happier faces. Told of the plan to paint precincts, one officer replied mockingly, "Did you say pay? They're planning to pay the cops in the precincts more?"

Mr. Kelleher said that the NYPD and its largest police union are discussing one issue that does involve more money. The department is attempting to revive a scheme to provide Special Assignment pay for patrol cops. An earlier version of the plan - under which 2,000 patrol cops were paid an annual Special Assignment bonus of $1,400 - was implemented over the objections of the PBA.

Revive Pay Plan?

The PBA claimed that the department could not change pay rates without first negotiating with the union, and expressed concerns that without an objective criteria for selecting the officers, it would merely be used as a means of rewarding the favorites of precinct commanders. The union prevailed in a Board of Collective Bargaining ruling that found the department had an obligation under the existing contract to negotiate such a salary initiative. With relations between the former PBA leadership and Mr. Safir at their nadir, the department simply dropped the plan.

Mr. Kelleher said that the department was now willing to negotiate with the PBA a mutually acceptable method of selecting cops for the Special Assignment pay and was hopeful that an agreement could be reached.

Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said that, while the issue is back on the table, there have yet to be any substantive talks on Special Assignment pay.

"We want to make sure that there is some criteria as to who gets it, and to see to it that it goes mainly to the cops on patrol, the ones who are slaves to the radio," he said.

Mr. Lynch stressed that the critical issue for improving morale was increasing police pay. "The main thing is that cops need more money to put food on their tables," he said. :The starting salary for a Police Officer is $27,000 and that is simply not enough to meet a mortgage, feed a family and buy shoes for your kids."

It's the Little Things

Union leaders joined in describing the meeting with the Police Commissioner as promising. Detectives' Endowment Association president Thomas J. Scotto initiated the proposed joint effort with a letter to Mr. Safir. In an interview the day after the committee's first meeting he said he hoped the effort would serve to resolve minor irritants that can have a major demoralizing effect.

"Sometimes thing happen out there that are just totally annoying," he said. "For example, you have a command that goes without a working air conditioner for three years. Hopefully we can get building maintenance and little things like that taken care of."

"I don't think there is any morale in the department," said Joseph V. Toal, President of the Sergeants' Benevolent Association. "The members of the service keep doing a great job out there, but they really need a shot in the arm."

Mr. Toal described the Police Commissioner's attitude as "positive," and said that he was at least hopeful that the meetings would result in the unions being better informed about NYPD policies.

Mr. Lynch said that while the meetings were a good idea, the PBA was "waiting to see if there is a truly open dialogue."

Dilapidated facilities, he said, are an important issue for his members. "People are always talking about the quality of life in the city's streets, but what about the quality of life in the stationhouses?" he said.

While he said that the PBA welcomed the allocation of funding to paint and clean the houses, the union believes that a more permanent solution is necessary. Many of the precincts have seen their civilian cleaners retire or leave without being replaced, forcing cops to do part-time cleaning on a rotation basis.

'Let Civilians Do It'

"They should hire civilian cleaners," Mr. Lynch said. "They need full-time workers to do maintenance and custodial work in every precinct."

While the uniformed police unions have often been on the opposite side of the fence on the issue of civilian hiring in the department, this is one area where the PBA is not trying to keep work for its members.

Mr. Kelleher, meanwhile, said that the meeting with the unions was part of an ongoing effort by the department to "have a positive impact on cops and bosses." He cited the recent introduction of "commanders' days," under which precinct and other unit commanders are able to give cops days off for good police work.

Another recent initiative, he said, changed a longstanding and unpopular requirement that senior cops split their five weeks' annual vacation into two two-week and one one-week segments. Now they are allowed to take five single weeks off over the course of the year.

The First Deputy Commissioner also pointed to Mr. Safir's creation of a ""Police Commissioner's Advisory Board," with about 20 officers from the rank of Lieutenant and below meeting with the Commissioner every two months for what Mr. Kelleher described as a "no-holds-barred" discussion on workplace problems.