New York Daily News

August 20, 2002

Cops' pay is city's shame


Cops are called on to make split-second, life-and-death decisions as part of their job. Do you want a tired cop making those decisions when you or someone you love is involved? Of course not. But that's what's happening. And it's the city's fault.

New York police officers are dreadfully underpaid. When you adjust for the cost of living in the city, our cops earn less than officers in 90% of the major police departments around the country. Low pay makes cops work a second and sometimes a third job. And that's dangerous.

Mayor Bloomberg says the city can afford to pay cops more only if they provide productivity improvements, like the teachers. The teachers lengthened their workday by 20 minutes for an additional 6% raise.

In explaining why teachers are getting raises of up to 22% over 30 months, Bloomberg said, "This is the kind of investment that, no matter how painful it is to make, we don't have any choice, and we must do it."

That statement makes even more sense applied to police salaries when you consider that safe streets promote business and tourism, without which the city can't survive.

The system that seeks never-ending productivity improvements has a fatal flaw. It rewards low-performing agencies that have a lot of room to improve, while efficient agencies have little to trade for money.

This is not intended as a knock on our teachers. They do important work, and we are delighted that their union secured them a decent contract.

But the simple facts are that the teachers, by virtue of their profession, work short days and few of them. Before this contract, teachers worked 180 days of 6 hours and 20 minutes each, compared with cops who work 243 days of 8 hours and 35 minutes each.

When the teachers' union agreed to add 20 minutes to the workday, it went up to 6 hours and 40 minutes on each of 180 days. You can see that the teachers have a great deal of negotiating room for the future, while the cops are pretty well scheduled up.

Now cops may be asked to show up for 10 more days in the name of efficiency. What makes this ironic is that the rest of the nation's police departments are going to longer tours of duty with fewer days, which reduces overtime costs and allows higher concentrations of police coverage during high-crime hours. New York is going in the opposite direction.

Finally, let's consider that police do what the rest of the city does not want to do. When there is a man with a gun, police run toward him while everyone else runs away.

It's true that nobody forces you to become a cop. But it is also true that it is an extraordinarily tough job with dangerous consequences. To do it well, you need all your wits about you. You can't do it well if you are exhausted from working the night shift at Pathmark.

It is time for Bloomberg to put that billionaire brain of his to the task of figuring out how the city can pay cops enough to let them support their families on their police salaries so they don't have to work a second or third job.

The Safe Streets, Safe City program, which put a surcharge on the city's personal income tax, taught us that New Yorkers will support innovative financing that is dedicated to supporting the police who keep them safe and make the city livable.

Lynch is president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.