New York Daily News

Low-pay recruits are forced to check out

EXCLUSIVE

BY ALISON GENDAR DAILY NEWS POLICE BUREAU CHIEF

Low pay is forcing more and more NYPD recruits to bail out of the Police Academy before they can graduate, the Daily News has learned. Nearly 7% of the current class quit in the first four weeks, sources told The News.

That's about twice the first-month dropout rate of the July 2005 class, the last academy class before a state arbitration panel slashed starting pay from $36,878 to $25,100.

"I went in knowing the pay was horrible, but I wanted to make a difference," said former NYPD recruit Kay Nikolopoulos, 33, of Long Island. "Then reality sunk in. I'm not a kid. I just couldn't make it on that check, especially since there's no real hope of the pay getting much better," said Nikolopoulos, who resigned Jan. 18 to return to her family's lucrative food business.

The NYPD always loses cops in the academy, especially in the opening weeks when newbies first encounter the department's tough training. Before the pay cut, about 3% of the class dropped out in the first four weeks. But since January last year, between 6% and 7% of the class has left in the opening weeks.

More than half - 57% - of the 95 recruits who have already left the current class said the chief reason they were leaving was because they just couldn't live on a starting cop's salary, sources told The News.

"I thought the idealism would be enough," said Nikolopoulos. "But the brutal reality is one month's pay in the NYPD was less than I made in a week working in my family's business."

NYPD brass say the pay cut derailed their plan to hire 800 additional cops by last month, which would have increased the NYPD head count for the first time in a decade.

Instead, the department ended last year with 307 fewer cops than it started with, as retirements and resignations outpaced recruiting. And as its current class continues to shrink, the problem will just get worse, officials acknowledged.

"It's kind of scary how poor I am right now," said a 25-year-old cop in the current academy class.

He said he borrowed $2,000 to cover the costs to buy his uniform, nightstick, memo book, handcuffs and rain gear. The department buys new cops a gun and pepper spray.

The Bronx resident, who didn't want his name used, hoped he could balance his checkbook to make it through the six-month training program, after which the salary rises to the slightly more livable $32,700.

"I guess it's part of the whole boot-camp, break-you-so-they-can-rebuild-you thing," he said. "But you feel like the city is giving you the back of the hand when you look at your paycheck stub."