The New York Times

January 17, 2003

Mayor Says No Layoffs for Police Now


Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said yesterday that he did not expect to lay off police officers in the current round of budget cuts, but he held open the possibility of future layoffs if the police union did not agree to money-saving changes in work rules.

The mayor's remarks ended, for now, speculation about the possibility that the city would resort to laying off police officers for the first time in nearly three decades. The speculation began last week, when Mr. Bloomberg ordered the Police Department to cut its budget by a further 3 percent, and Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said it would be "very difficult" to make such cuts without layoffs.

Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday that he thought the Police Department would be able to avoid layoffs in the current round of cuts, which would take effect in the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

"My hope is that with the 3 percent that we've asked the Police Department to cut, just with attrition and good management we can avoid layoffs," the mayor said yesterday at a news conference in City Hall.

Mr. Bloomberg said most city agencies had submitted proposals for cutting spending without layoffs, but he stopped short of saying there would be no layoffs in the budget proposal that he is expected to release early next month.

"We'll see as we get closer," Mr. Bloomberg said. He held open the possibility that more employees of the Department of Education could be laid off as he moves to re-centralize and streamline its bureaucracy.

The city faces a deficit of roughly $3 billion in the fiscal year beginning July 1. Mr. Bloomberg plans to update his plan for closing that gap early next month. To help him prepare that plan, his administration has asked most city agencies to submit proposals on how they would cut their budgets by a further 6 percent. They asked the city's uniformed departments, and the Education Department, for 3 percent cuts.

Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the union representing police officers, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, applauded the mayor's announcement.

"That is good news for a city that is already dangerously low on police officers," said Mr. Lynch, who has been leading a publicity campaign against layoffs.

The Police Department has not laid off officers since the fiscal crisis of the 1970's, but its numbers have dropped through attrition in recent years. Because police officers are retiring faster than the city is choosing to replace them, the department, which peaked at 40,710 officers in 2001, is expected to be at 37,210 by July.

Mayor Bloomberg said the Police Department was a "shining example of how to do more with less," noting that crime has continued to go down even as the department has lost resources and manpower.

He indicated that officers might have to be laid off in the future if the union does not agree to so-called productivity improvements, like a shorter work day, in exchange for getting officers to work more days each year.

"If we were not to get the productivity enhancements down the road, we'd have to look at everything," the mayor said. "The law is clear: we must balance the budget."

A police union spokesman declined to discuss the productivity issue last night.

Fire officials confirmed yesterday that they would be hiring a new class of 250 firefighters next month to help replenish their ranks, which have also been thinned by retirements. Even with the new class, however, the Fire Department will still be more than 400 short of its allotted 8,800-member uniformed force.

Because of minimum staffing requirements, the Fire Department has been spending more and more on overtime to cover vacancies. It is considering closing eight engine companies and cutting engine staffing in some companies to four firefighters from five to reduce its staffing needs. The fire unions have objected to both proposals, suggesting that they would compromise public safety.

Mayor Bloomberg said he was still optimistic that the city would get help from Gov. George E. Pataki, despite the fact that the state is facing its own budget crisis. The mayor also said federal officials were unlikely to provide much help.

"Hopefully, we can convince them to do it, and I'm not walking away from trying," Mr. Bloomberg said, "but I don't think we can sit back, not face the issues, and say, `Oh, Washington will bail us out.' That's not realistic."