The New York Times

February 3, 2003


As Reservists Are Called Up, Cities Bear Costs

By ROBERT F. WORTH

As cities and towns across the country prepare for military reservists to be called up in the event of a war against Iraq, officials of New York City's Police and Fire Departments say they expect the impact on city services and budgets to be manageable.

But Senator Charles E. Schumer said yesterday that the city was already paying $315,000 a week for the salaries of police and firefighter reservists who had been called to active duty.

The federal government eventually repays a portion of such costs, but in the meantime if more reservists are called up, the city may have to pay for additional overtime or hire new officers, firefighters and Emergency Medical Service workers, Mr. Schumer said.

He said he planned today to ask the federal government to help pay any additional costs.

Citing the city's dire fiscal troubles and its need to remain vigilant against more terrorist attacks, Mr. Schumer said: "New York is being asked to do triple duty. We are dealing with economic problems caused by 9/11, we are dealing with security problems, and we are sending reservists overseas. And reservists are in the fire, police and E.M.T.'s in disproportionate numbers."

He said he he planned to write to the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security, asking that they pay the cost of temporarily replacing police, firefighting and other emergency workers in the event of war.

There are 1,193 reservists among the city's 37,200 police officers, slightly more than 3 percent of the force, said the Police Department's chief spokesman, Michael P. O'Looney. Of those, 182 have been called up, he said. During the Persian Gulf war of 1991, 225 police reservists were called up, he added.

"At that level, it's something we can handle," Mr. O'Looney said. "But we are always concerned about a reduction in the size of the force."

Another law enforcement official, who would speak only on the condition that he not be identified, said that Police Department officials believed it was unlikely that any additional officer-reservists would be called up.

There are about 300 reservists among the city's 14,000 firefighters and E.M.S. workers, or about 2 percent of the total, said a Fire Department spokesman, Paul Iannizzotto.

"Even if all of them were called up, it would not affect staffing," Mr. Iannizzotto said. "We'd use overtime to fill in the blanks."

According to a report prepared by Senator Schumer, the city, the state and Long Island are paying $375,000 a week in salaries to reservists who have been called up, a cost the report said could total $19 million by the end of the year.

If all area reservists are called up, New York City could pay as much as $120 million for their salaries without benefiting from their services, and the cost to Long Island could be $15 million, according to the report. If the city decided to compensate for half of that lost manpower by hiring new workers, the cost could be an additional $54 million.

Spokesmen for the unions representing the city's firefighters and police officers expressed some concern about the prospect of doing more with less.

"The ranks are already very thin, and a loss of manpower would just exacerbate that problem," said Albert W. O'Leary of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, which represents New York's rank-and-file police officers. "Any further reduction will create a situation where crime is going to be allowed to flourish in some communities."

Peter L. Gorman, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said, "If it's really just 300 reservists, I think the Fire Department can handle it with minimal difficulty."

Some reservists returned only a few months ago after being called up for duty following the attacks of 9/11, and some also served in the Persian Gulf war more than a decade ago.

Unlike that war, the looming conflict in Iraq could put a new strain on police, fire and emergency service workers, Senator Schumer said. Some people fear that a war in Iraq could make the United States a target for new terrorist attacks, just as staffing for domestic security is being taxed by call-ups.