New York Post
August 6, 2001

NYPD Blues

By Murray Kempton

A crowd stands up for cops during a Diallo protest.
- NYP: Don Halasy

August 6, 2001 — THE NYPD is fast approaching a dangerous crossroads littered with poor morale, massive retirements and lagging recruitment that threatens to undermine a decade of historic crime reduction.

How the next mayor and his police commissioner handle this extraordinary convergence of hazards will determine if New York remains America's safest large city or retreats back into the days when it was considered an ungovernable nightmare.

For the first time in memory, a litany of separate factors are coming together, even as the city experiences yet another double-digit drop in crime this year.

Here are the problems:

• Morale has hit bottom following overwhelming public criticism of the NYPD. The department is still reeling amid allegations of racial profiling during "stop-and-frisks." The accusations erupted after several high-profile shootings and brutality cases, including those involving Amadou Diallo and Abner Louima.

• Salaries continue to run well below those of neighboring departments, such as in Suffolk County, where an officer's annual pay starts at $42,496 and tops out at around $87,000, compared to $31,305 and $55,268 respectively for New York's Finest.


The situation was exacerbated because Mayor Giuliani forced the police union several years ago to accept a contract that included two years without pay raises - which further lowered morale.

• A record-setting exodus of cops — starting with a staggering 3,000 officers this year — is shrinking the world's largest department for the first time in two decades, after a crime-weary citizenry and elected officials pushed for its expansion.

And the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better: An even larger number of veteran cops and detectives, hired in the early 1980s after a series of layoffs, are reaching the 20-year mark, where they can retire with half-pay for life.

The 3,000 cops retiring this year will take advantage of generous pensions, fattened by a number of overtime-fueled, drug-fighting initiatives. The outgoing cops represent about 30 percent more than last year's 2,314 — which was 50 percent higher than the 1,569 cops who quit in 1998.

By 2004, one of four cops will be eligible to pack it in.

Police say the exodus is fueled partly by the intense criticism leveled on cops for any misstep.

"You make a mistake — an honest mistake — and they kill you," a top official said.

• Recruitment has been such a struggle that a recent graduating class fell 361 short of the 1,589 funded slots allocated for last September.

More recently, the number of applicants has fallen to a point where the NYPD spent $10 million on a failed advertising campaign, waived the $35 application fee, and sent teams of recruiters to military bases and college campuses to lure potential cadets.

The situation is considered so serious that union and department officials privately fear the NYPD may have to lower standards as a way to replenish the ranks.

Perhaps most disturbing for the next occupant of Gracie Mansion is the fact these problems occurred when crime declined to 1960s levels under a mayor who, by all accounts, offered unconditional support to cops in every way, except at the bargaining table.