The New York Times

August 11, 2000

Police in New York City Start $10 Million Recruiting Campaign


Hoping to attract a diverse class of recruits by portraying a compassionate side of policing, the Police Department began a $10 million recruiting campaign yesterday, and said it would begin saturating New York City with advertisements in the weeks ahead.

The campaign, called Mission: Possible, is the second of its kind in two years, and comes at a time when the number of applicants to the Police Academy has been dropping sharply. In 1996, 31,000 applicants signed up for the department's recruiting test; 14,600 people applied for the most recent test, which was administered last October.

The steep drop in applicants has raised concerns in the Police Department about its ability to attract and retain officers for the 40,000-member force, and its prospects of diversifying ranks. Roughly 85 percent of the officers are male; 66 percent are white.

To broaden the department's reach, the Mission: Possible advertisements show a sensitive side of police work, including officers who are portrayed as well liked in the community for acts of kindness or for making the streets safe.

The advertisements have been prepared in six languages -- Chinese, English, French, Korean, Russian and Spanish -- and will be posted or published in minority neighborhoods and the newspapers that serve them.

"We want to make sure that our messages reach everyone, in their native tongue and in the media that matter to them," said Caroline R. Jones, a private advertising executive who is directing the campaign.

But the advertising blitz had hardly begun when it hit its first bump.

To start the campaign, Police Commissioner Howard Safir appeared at a news conference with Ray Romano, the comedian who stars in the television show "Everybody Loves Raymond," and his older brother, Richard Romano, who is a sergeant in the department's Manhattan Gang Unit.

In one of the Mission: Possible advertisements, the Romanos appear together, and Ray Romano discusses his admiration for his brother's courage. As Mr. Safir looked on, Mr. Romano repeated his respect for his brother yesterday. "He puts his life on the line, and I tell jokes about diapers," he said.

But no sooner had the news conference ended than Sergeant Romano said he was retiring from the department next month, suggesting that his salary was insufficient and that he was worn down by the demands of the job.

"Monetarily, it doesn't really pay right now with the incentive you get to retire," he said. "I've done 20 years on the street, and every man has his point where he says it's his breaking point. I don't know, he just knows when to stop."

The sergeant's comments set off a scramble of activity.

Inside 1 Police Plaza, Marilyn Mode, the department's senior spokeswoman, quickly led him back to reporters, and he said, "I really love this job." Later, Deputy Chief Thomas P. Fahey, another spokesman, urged reporters not to use the comment in their articles, saying the sergeant had not been trained in news media relations.

Elsewhere, the remarks were greeted as a telling confirmation of a sentiment expressed in a competing advertising campaign begun last month by the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the union representing city police officers.

The union has maintained that the department's officers are underpaid, particularly in light of the stress of the job. Its advertisement shows footage of milling, anti-police protests and ends with the sound of gunfire and the sight of a fallen officer, face down in a small pool of blood. "Most people wouldn't take this job for a million bucks," the voice-over says.

Patrick J. Lynch, the union's president, said that by sharing the rationale for his impending retirement, Sergeant Romano had, in an instant, validated a common feeling among the Police Department's rank and file.

"He spoke from his heart, with what the truth is," Mr. Lynch said of the sergeant. "It's not worth being on this job, in this anti-police atmosphere, and being severely underpaid."

A rookie police officer is paid $31,428 a year, and typically earns about $3,000 more in overtime, holiday pay and often a differential applied for working night shifts.