New York Daily News

June 15, 2003

NYPD real blue over tickets

Cops in News survey cite summons squeeze, low pay

By DAVID SALTONSTALL
Daily News City Hall Bureau Chief

Daily News Exclusive

   
  Many New York City police officers feel overworked, underpaid and underappreciated.
 
  Loaded up with crime-fighting gear including ticket books, these two cops are ready for offenders large and small.

Interviews with more than 200 city cops show that a clear majority say they have been pressured to write more summonses, a directive that is contributing to a broad decline in morale within the Police Department, a Daily News survey found.

Less overtime, a pay scale that remains the lowest in the region and a sense that the public has forgotten the heroism that marked the department after Sept. 11, 2001 — all are contributing to give the storied NYPD the blues, cops say.

At the same time, many cops speak with deserved pride of their successes in driving crime down to a low not seen since a ride on the city's subway cost 10 cents. They believe that professionalism is on the rise within the NYPD, despite deep budget cuts and the growing challenge of protecting the city against terrorism.

But an undercurrent of complaint, swept along in recent weeks by what they say is a rising pressure to write summonses and several high-profile police fatalities, has left many cops feeling underappreciated by the public, City Hall and even their own supervisors.

"Everything at roll call is negative," said one 32-year-old officer in Brooklyn's 79th Precinct. "We never hear, ‘You're doing a good job.' It's always, ‘You're not doing enough, you're not making enough arrests.'"

Among those officers whose duties include writing summonses, 135 — or 65% — told News reporters they felt "a lot" or "some pressure" to issue tickets.

And many said the punishment for not meeting summons targets is often harsh, with requests for days off denied, overtime shifts taken away or cops used to riding in patrol cars suddenly finding themselves walking the beat.

Even supervisors feel the heat.

"I've got to tell my guys, ‘Do this!' said one 36-year-old lieutenant in the Bronx when asked about summons pressure. "If I don't do it, I'll be [transferred]."

Bad tickets are written

Indeed, out of 95 cops who were asked if they had knowingly written summonses that would be thrown out of court, 33 said they had.

The survey was not intended to be a scientific poll. It is a collection of interviews with some 230 members of the Police Department, including supervisors, detectives and street cops from precincts across the city, covering all shifts. Officers were asked specific questions about a range of police-related issues, with their answers tabulated by News reporters and journalism interns on printed questionnaires.

Asked to respond to the survey, City Hall and NYPD officials chose to question the legitimacy of asking a large number of officers about a broad range of police-related issues and compiling their answers.

They repeated that, in fact, parking, moving and criminal summonses are down about 10% overall this year through May, to 3,759,868 from 4,157,629 - a trend The News has repeatedly pointed out.

"We question the credibility of a so-called survey that was carried out in part by interns for a newspaper that has aggressively promoted the myth of a ticket blitz, while at the same time acknow-ledging that the number of summons issued this year is actually down," said NYPD spokesman Michael O'Looney.

City officials did not mention other facts repeatedly pointed out by The News, such as the number of summonses issued by the city's Sanitation, Environmental Protection and Transportation Departments are all up.

Or that violations — on the books for years but rarely enforced before - have come to include the feeding of pigeons ($50), having too many words on a store awning ($400), or putting a dealer-issued frame around your license plate ($55).

They also did not note that because parking fines nearly doubled six months ago, revenue from tickets is expected to skyrocket about 20% next fiscal year, to $662 million from $529 million. Some $69 million of that increase will be generated by 300 new traffic cops that Bloomberg plans to hire after July 1.

"This is a cheap-shot attack on the mayor and the Police Department, dressed up to look like journalism," O'Looney added.

Bloomberg spokesman Ed Skyler characterized The News' surveys as the "dirty work" of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which recently held elections that saw its incumbent president, Patrick Lynch, gain another term.

Union: Don't blame cops

The union has been vociferous in its contention that police brass was instituting ticket quotas, even running an ad campaign urging the public not to blame cops. In a written statement, Skyler said "the ‘survey' is not worth responding to since it is bound to be discredited." He attached as part of his response information on polling methodology from Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

But he left out the link to Quinnipiac's Web site, which would have led to a very scientific May 7 poll showing 63% of registered city voters disapprove of the way Bloomberg is handling the city's budget.

In The News' survey, it becomes clear that many police officers feel overworked, underpaid and underappreciated. More than eight out of 10 surveyed, for instance, said they felt the department's 37,000 cops rarely get credit for actually implementing - rather than just talking about - the city's successful crimefighting strategies.

"All the chiefs take credit and nothing goes to the cops," said one Manhattan detective with 15 years on the job.

The falloff in morale comes as the department continues to drive down crime to historic lows, with another 8% drop this year alone under Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

And while many do not directly blame Bloomberg or Kelly for the department's problems, 158 out of 230 - or about 68% - said morale had declined since Bloomberg became mayor and Kelly started his second watch as top cop 17 months ago. Many noted that morale was bound to fall in the painful aftermath of Sept. 11, an event which - for all its heartbreak - also bound the city to its rescue workers like never before.

At the same time, many said morale issues go back years, if not decades, and are largely rooted in salary issues, which seem unlikely to improve anytime soon with the city's economy in the dumps.

The starting salary for a rookie cop is $34,514, rising to $54,048 after five years - a level well below surrounding jurisdictions. By comparison, Port Authority cops earn $70,344 after five years.

"It is not only Bloomberg's fault," said a lieutenant with 20 years on the force. "The officers respect Commissioner Kelly very much, as I do. But ... [we] are running out of time and gas."

The responses about morale come as Bloomberg accepted blame in the death of Alberta Spruill, the Harlem woman who died May 16 after police mistakenly raided her apartment, using a flash grenade.

Some have interpreted Bloomberg's swift apology as a sign that he would not always stand behind the NYPD, as former Mayor Rudy Giuliani did.

But Bloomberg's mea culpa also has won wide praise from other quarters for defusing what could have become a bitter racial imbroglio, much like the 1999 police killing of Amadou Diallo.

"This mayor has continued the presumption of speaking in support of cops — unless it is clear that what took place is wrong," said former Mayor Ed Koch. "And he is absolutely right to do so."

Spruill cops made error

A significant number of cops surveyed - more than 25% - seemed to agree. "It's obvious they made a mistake," one 27-year-old Brooklyn cop said of the Spruill case.

But 53 out of 131 cops queried on the Spruill case - about 41% - disagreed with the mayor's approach. Another 32% said they were undecided, reflecting an unwillingness to criticize either the mayor or their fellow officers.

"I wasn't there," was a common response.

With reporting from Ruth Bashinsky, Chrisena Coleman, Natalie Ferro, Melissa Grace, Bob Kappstatter, Jonathan Lemire, Celeste Katz, Chelsea Phua and Beverley Wang.

DAILY NEWS POLICE SURVEY

  • 82% of cops surveyed say they do not get enough public credit for the city's decline in crime.

  • 81% of cops surveyed say the NYPD does not have enough personnel to combat terrorism and perform all its other jobs.

  • 75% of cops surveyed say morale is "very" or "somewhat negative," 19% say "somewhat positive" and 5% say "very positive."

  • 68% of cops surveyed say morale has gone down since Mayor Bloomberg took office, 31% say they're undecided and 0.5% say it has gone up.

  • 65% of cops surveyed say they feel "a lot" or "some" pressure to write summonses, 8% say they feel "not much" pressure and 27% say they feel "no pressure."

  • 48% of cops surveyed say the relationship between cops and the public has worsened in the last few months, 12% say it has improved and 38% say it is unchanged.

About the police survey

We want to know what cops think.

For the past two weeks, the Daily News canvassed the city to conduct informal interviews of the rank-and-file of the New York Police Department.

A team of reporters and journalism interns hit all five boroughs, talking to more than 230 cops of varying rank and experience.

In one five-question survey, The News sought to gauge police morale and determine whether cops had been pressured to write more summonses.

The response from the 100 cops interviewed was stunning: The vast majority said morale was poor and that they had gotten pressure to issue more summonses.

To further test those results, which were gathered during a contested election of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, The News formulated a second survey. It incorporated four of the original questions in a larger, eight-question survey.

The second survey, conducted after the union election, included some new questions specifically worded so that cops would be in a more positive frame of mind when answering four summons and morale questions.

Yet the answers from the 131 cops to those four questions varied only slightly from the answers of the 100 cops in the first survey.

Spokesmen for the mayor and police commissioner dismissed the surveys, contending that because they were not scientifically conducted, they have no merit.

The News respectfully disagrees.