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August 20, 2001

Local Precincts Face Staffing Crisis

Officers exodus due to lack of respect from NYPD, says the PBA

By Jesse Serwer

The 109th Pct. in Flushing - has 30 less police officers. (Inset) PBA President, Pat Lynch

While violent crime levels remain low throughout the city, Queens and other boroughs are facing a drastic increase in crimes like burglary and grand larceny for the first time in over a decade. For veteran cops, and those who observe the department closely, the reason is quite clear, there aren't enough officers on the street.

There are approximately 3,700 fewer officers city-wide than there were just three years ago, creating a staffing crisis that is leaving local precincts like the 109 in Flushing and the 111 in Bayside severely under-manned, and unable to maintain the level of community policing that citizens became used to during the height of the Giuliani era.

It is a problem that the Police Department's management is largely ignoring, according to representatives of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (PBA), the union which represents the city's police officers. According to NYC-PBA President Pat Lynch, the officers' plight is being exacerbated by increased demands on the job, combined with a stagnant salary that pales in comparison to packages offered in surrounding suburbs and the Port Authority.

City officers are entering their third year of working without a labor contract, and the department's recent recruiting effort is being hailed as a "flop," according to Lynch. "We are losing fully trained and experienced officers at an alarming rate, [putting] the city at risk, and Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly have done nothing to prevent it," says Lynch. "The shame of it is that 1,200 of the officers who resigned in the past 16 months could have been retained to patrol New York City's streets if our elected officials and the NYPD had the courage to do more than just talk about solutions."

There have already been 800 resignations city-wide this year, compared to a total of 869 for all of last year, according to the PBA's Queens North financial trustee Robert Laboni. "The increased demand on officers due to low staffing adds stress to an already stressful job," says Laboni, a veteran of the Queens Anti-Crime Unit and the 115th Precinct.

The PBA is currently projecting a total loss of experienced personnel in 2001 and 2002 to reach 7,586 or roughly the equivalent of the Boston, San Francisco, Baltimore and Phoenix police departments combined. "This city is spending tens of millions of dollars on recruiting and training, only to have better paying police departments grab the cream of the crop," says Lynch. "That money would be better spent paying police officers a competitive salary so they will stay here." In the present economy, many officers need to work two jobs just to support families and pay mortgages. "If they come in to work already exhausted, how can they be expected to perform as police officers?" asks Laboni.

"Low manpower makes a police officer's life more stressful than it already is," explains Laboni, "so guys will jump ship any chance that they get. You can't give people in the community the attention they deserve, when you have to rush around from job to job. The result is that the public doesn't get treated like they should."

Although spokespersons for the NYPD will not give out the exact amount of officers stationed at each precinct, every precinct in Queens has less officers than they did at this time last year, according to a source at the PBA. Earlier this summer, the PBA submitted a Freedom of Information request for the number of police officers assigned to each precinct in the city on June 30 of each the last ten years. They were told by the NYPD that it would take 120 days to deter-mine "what records of theirs could be examined," says PBA Communications Director Albert O' Leary.

According to another source in the PBA, all of Queens local precincts have between 40 and 70 fewer officers than they did several years ago. Hardest hit is central Queens' 110th Precinct, which is down approximately 70 officers, according to a PBA source. As of the end of July, crime in the 110 is up 15% from last year, including a 44% increase in burglaries and a 30% increase in grand larcenies.

The 111th Precinct in Bayside, which has lost approximately 50 officers in the past several years, is also in the midst of a steep rise in burglaries, up 68% to 232, from 161 last year. The 112th Precinct in Forest Hills often only has the manpower to turn out two cars after midnight, according to a source within the precinct. Another source in the 109th Precinct in Flushing complains of an increase in violent crimes in that area and that working with 30 less officers compared to prior years puts their "lives at risk."

"Queens historically has been shortchanged by the [City] Police Department," says Councilman Hiram Monseratte. Monseratte believes the borough's problems have been enhanced by the decreased visibility of patrol officers since the rise of specialty units under the Giuliani administration.

"We can't realistically offer our police a package similar to [what is available] in the suburbs, but we should be getting as close as we can," he says. "Our police have brought us a safer city, and economic prosperity but our officers just receive praise - not the compensation they deserve."

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