New York Daily News

Cops pay big price for 25G salary
Police commish says reduction in starting pay damaging recruitment

By ALISON GENDAR DAILY NEWS POLICE BUREAU CHIEF

January 8, 2007—The city's all-out push to boost the number of cops patrolling the streets has been crippled by the NYPD's appallingly low starting salary for recruits.

Instead of adding 800 cops to the war on crime, as Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly had hoped, the department failed to increase its numbers by a single officer over the past year, the Daily News has learned.

"Starting pay was cut some 40%, down to 1986 levels. It doesn't take a genius to see this will have an impact on recruiting," Kelly told The News during an exclusive interview.

By the end of last year, the NYPD's ranks had actually shrunk by 300, despite a March announcement by Bloomberg and Kelly of what was supposed to have been the largest city-financed expansion of the department since 1993.

As a result, neighborhoods waiting for an infusion of cops will be left struggling.

The low salary was set by an arbitration panel as part of a contract settlement between the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association and the city in 2005. As they head into arbitration on another contract fight, both sides have put fixing the starting pay high on their agendas.

NYPD brass said interviews with recruits who chose to drop out of the academy found that many of them were unhappy with department's paltry starting salary of $25,100.

Again and again, the recruits said they were leaving for higher pay, though hardly glamorous jobs.

"I can make more money an hour working in my dad's grocery," said a recruit who dropped out to take a job as a sales clerk. "I'll wait, and hope they bump up the salary and then reapply. If not, I guess I'll sell Lotto tickets instead of fight crime."

About 16% of last January's class - the first to get paid the low starting salary - never got their badges. In July, 20% of the class quit or were forced out, about twice the dropout and failure rate of recent classes.

At least one police recruit has asked for food stamps, but city officials said none would likely qualify because the starting salary rises to $32,700 after six months, when the cops go out on patrol.

"I live in my dad's basement," said a Queens rookie who graduated from the academy last month. "I'm 26 years old and I'm bumming meals from my parents. I'm not sure if it's worth it."

When Bloomberg and Kelly announced the expansion plans, the goal was to get 400 additional cops on the streets by last month and another 400 on the payroll no later than this week.

While the department hired 2,983 recruits last year, it lost 3,290 officers to retirements, resignations and attrition - a net loss of 307 bodies, sources said.

Police officials told The News the department is not on pace to reach its target of having 37,838 cops on the job by Wednesday. Despite the struggles, Kelly said the quality of the new recruits remains high.

"The applicant processing people were not driven by the numbers. They were driven by quality and maintaining the highest standards," Kelly said. "You can see that in the education levels of the new classes."

But the city's largest police union argued that too many sub-par recruits are being accepted into the academy.

Patrick Lynch, president of the PBA, seized on the high dropout and failure rate of the July class.

"It shows that they have been putting anyone they could get into the academy," he said. "So many other departments in the metro area pay their police substantially more. They are getting the best candidates."

Union officials say their position is supported by the recent arrests of two rookie cops.

In September, Officer Danielle Baymack was arrested for allegedly killing her close friend and fellow officer in a drunken car crash in Long Island. Baymack, who had a checkered driving record before joining the department, graduated from the Police Academy last July.

Last week, Officer Dixon Zapata, who graduated from the academy last January, was arrested for attacking his wife in front of their kids in Brooklyn.

"There is such a scramble, a push, for bodies, there is no way they can give everyone a real checkup," said a police supervisor who works with recruits. The planned expansion of the department was designed to keep a lid on crime as the city's population expands by 200,000 over the next five years.

Though overall crime fell 4.7% last year compared with 2005, the murder rate rose 9.2%. Last week, police brass put out the word that overtime would be easier to get, ideally to allow cops to make more arrests.

"It's the old 'dollars for collars,'" said a police official who asked not to be identified. "Is some of it fueled because there are less cops out there? No doubt."