New York Daily News

February 15, 2007

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To keep the Finest from fleeing the force, hike veteran cop salaries, says PBA prez

By Patrick Lynch

Siren call of the suburbsFour thousand, four hundred and thirty-nine more fully trained and experienced police officers would be patrolling the streets if the NYPD were paying a fair and competitive salary. Nearly 4,500: That's how many cops have quit over the past five years. It's the highest number of resignations over any five-year period in NYPD history.

These cops quit - they didn't retire. These were preventable losses. Most are now patrolling other towns and cities. That makes our streets more dangerous.

And despite the tremendous attention paid to the $25,100 starting salary, the low top pay is the real reason so many cops have quit our force. The top pay of a New York City police officer is $59,000. As of November 2006, top pay for the MTA police was over $68,000; top Port Authority police pay was $80,000; Nassau, $92,000 and Suffolk, $94,000. In fact, with over 150 police departments across the country paying more than the NYPD and recruiting right in our backyard, we have become the nation's police job fair.

Mayor Bloomberg's insistence that so few people want to become police officers here because of the $25,100 rookie salary - a salary that was proposed by and granted to the city in a 2005 binding arbitration case - is wrong. Nassau county, with a top pay of $92,000, starts their officers at $21,000 and has no problem keeping or attracting officers. In fact, many veteran NYPD cops leave to join Nassau's police. The NYPD has been hemorrhaging officers for over a decade, predating the low rookie pay.

The root of our problem is that top pay is not competitive. And the price we are paying for the loss of these 4,439 over five years goes beyond the very real threat of rising crime rates. This city spends about $100,000 to recruit, test and train a single officer. When one cop quits, they have to spend it again. So over the last half-decade, it has cost about a half-billion dollars to replace those who quit. What a waste.

The cost in loss of experience is priceless. The NYPD is rapidly becoming a younger force. And our young officers, who should be the experienced force of tomorrow, are also searching for better opportunities elsewhere.

Yes, it's true that the NYPD carries a certain prestige. But prestige doesn't pay the mortgage. New York City police simply cannot afford to live in the very city they risk their lives to protect - and better-paying police jobs are plentiful elsewhere.

How do we solve New York's police shortage? By complying with the state's Taylor Law and once and for all paying our police officers a fair and competitive salary. That law prevents police and city workers from striking. It also establishes guidelines for setting equitable pay for city workers. Effectively, it says the city should look at what other local governments are paying their police - and pay its police comparably.

We'll have to spend the money either way: to keep trained and experienced cops on patrol or to replace the thousands who leave for better-paying jobs.

New York City is at a crossroads. If we fail to make police pay competitive, the NYPD will continue to shrink in size and experience, and the great strides in crime-fighting achieved over the past decade will be lost. Will that be Bloomberg's legacy?

Lynch is president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.