New York Daily News

July 23, 2002

Only a fair pay raise will stop cop attrition

When the power went out below 14th St. because of a Con Edison transformer blaze, our firefighters and cops were immediately on the case. If they wore metal hats and worked with hoses, axes and ladders, they were right in there fighting the blaze. If they wore dark blue uniforms and went to work armed, they were sent out to prevent whatever havoc might be created by more than 60,000 people losing electric power for seven hours. They did the job with splendid efficiency. New York at its best.

Eileen Smith/Tom Monaster Daily News Photo Illustration

I was thinking about them and how important they are to us just yesterday when passing a police stationhouse where two cops were outside getting a smoke, one black, one white, one in plainclothes, the other in uniform. The precinct had just lost eight officers who quit to join police departments in suburban communities. The officers told me that every stationhouse has a similar story. The force is dwindling.

That reminded me, again, of a very disturbing letter I recently received from Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association. The letter thanked me for a column I had written after the deal that Mayor Bloomberg made with the teachers union. The column was called "Cops and firefighters deserve a raise, too." I believed it then; I believe it now.

While I am accustomed to receiving letters from representatives of special-interest groups of one sort or another, I found Lynch's disturbing because it reminded of what I had heard from a number of cops over the years: The low salary causes far too many of them to leave the force because New York City has not chosen to be competitive.

This has always been a strange one to me. I have never been able to get it. Even former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, for all he did for this city, never got it right with the cops and their pay envelopes. Of course, I have long felt that the cops' union made a serious mistake by threatening a work slowdown when addressing a combative mayor who was always ready to get into the ring.

But as Lynch says in his letter, "Last year, over 3,700 veterans of the force left, and the NYPD hired back only 1,600. That means that there are 2,100 fewer professional law enforcers today than last year."

I do not like that, and I do not think any of us should. Nor should we be unaware of the risk that Lynch sees when he says that doing more with less means "more stress for already overburdened police officers. Worse yet, it means overstressed police officers who are forced to make split-second life-and-death decisions. This is dangerous for the police officers and for the community that we are sworn to protect."

I think that both the Bloomberg administration and the police union should seek to discover an innovative way in which to right the wrong of cops not getting a fair pay raise.

Of course, in a time when there are so many illegal firearms in the streets and so much Wild West pressure, cops can never be paid what they truly deserve, even if New York were the richest city in the world and the administration walked into offices where money lay ankle-deep.

You cannot pay someone enough money to risk life and limb at the ring of a telephone. But the city can definitely do better than it is.