The New York Times

April 14, 2001

City Officials Move to Increase Police Recruits


With a deadline fast approaching, applications for the coming police test have lagged, suggesting that interest in a career with the New York Police Department remains anemic. While unwilling to concede they have a recruiting problem, police officials said yesterday that they would make a wide range of changes to the recruitment program.

The changes include waiving the $35 application fee, extending the deadline to apply for the June 23 test, and offering additional test dates at military bases around the country and at campuses in New York City, Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik said yesterday.

So far this year, with the original application deadline two weeks away, only 800 people have signed up to take the June 23 test. The number pales in comparison to recent years, when tens of thousands of men and women applied. Police officials yesterday acknowledged the number of applicants was low, but contended that it was not a clear-cut indication of low interest in police careers. They said it was usual for many applications to come in the final weeks of the sign-up period.

But rather than wait for a last-minute surge that may not come, officials decided to take the steps to increase the number of candidates for the force of 40,000 officers. Chief among them, Mr. Kerik said, was the elimination of the filing fee. The decision, made last week, will require city personnel officials to refund the entry fees already paid by the current applicants.

In addition, the city has extended the filing period for the June 23 test by two weeks, from April 30 to May 15, in the hope of reaping the full benefit of eliminating the fee.

In the past, the department offered the police test twice a year, and only in New York City. Now, officials plan to schedule more testing days over the next six weeks, with on-the-spot registration, at Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort Campbell in Kentucky and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, as well as at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, St. John's University in Queens and St. Francis College in Brooklyn, Mr. Kerik said.

Next year, the department will also offer the free test using a dozen city public school sites, with tests in February, June and October, and both morning and afternoon sessions. The department is also exploring giving the exams at the State University of New York campuses at Albany, Binghamton and New Paltz.

Mr. Kerik is facing the same problems that plagued his predecessor, Commissioner Howard Safir: a department dragged down by abysmal morale after several high-profile incidents that tarnished the department's reputation, including the torture of Abner Louima in a Brooklyn station house in 1997 and the fatal shooting of Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant, in 1999.

At the same time, officers are almost unanimously bitter over a pay scale roundly criticized as miserly in an economy that for years has offered attractive alternatives. But concern appears to have deepened in recent weeks, because the applications have lagged even as the economy has shuddered.

Yesterday, Mr. Kerik, talking to reporters about the new recruiting initiatives, sought to play down the concerns. He said he was taking the new measures because he believed the department, which he said hired more people than any other city agency, would generally benefit from a consistently larger pool of candidates.

"This department, unlike just about any other city agency, should be recruiting constantly," he said. "Because we're constantly hiring, I think we should maintain a bigger pool, instead of just testing one or two times a year," as the department has in the past.

But the head of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the union that represents police officers, said the new efforts failed to respond to what he called the underlying problem.

"The city is refusing to address the real problem in recruiting," said Patrick J. Lynch, the P.B.A. president. "The problem in recruiting is we have a substandard salary. Surrounding jurisdictions, who pay their police officers a decent, livable wage, have thousands of thousands of applicants for hundreds of spots."

Members of the P.B.A. start at an annual salary of $31,305, and the union is now engaged in contract talks with the city. Mr. Lynch said a smaller pool of recruits meant that the city might be forced to lower its standards for hiring officers. "What the city has to be careful of doing is lowering the standards to increase their numbers," he said. "Once you lower the standards, it affects the city's citizens as well as their fellow police officers. Raise the salaries and you can keep the high standards."

Mr. Kerik said the department was undertaking a new advertising campaign, with print, radio and television ads that he said would be unveiled next week. While he was unable yesterday to provide the cost for the advertisements, he said the budget would be less than the department's last advertising blitz, which cost about $20 million over two years under Mr. Safir, with limited success. Mr. Kerik said the advertisements would be produced largely in- house.

The 800 candidates who have signed up during the last five weeks for the June 23 test represent an increase over the 375 who signed up during a five-week period in July and August of last year for a test that was given in December, officials said. "We're really enthused about these numbers," said Patrick J. Muldowney, a spokesman for the city's Division of Citywide Administrative Services.

But neither figure measures up to the roughly 4,000 who signed up in a five-week period early last year. In the end, 8,300 signed up for that test — a figure that itself represented a marked decline from the 1990's, when 15,000 to 30,000 people applied to take the tests.