Staten Island Advance
January 7, 2007

NYPD: Pay us more and more will sign up

Comparatively low starting salaries and maximum wages make recruiting efforts difficult

By JOHN ANNESE

Though the city's police union and the mayor's administration are locked in a contract stalemate, both sides agree that low salaries are cutting into the NYPD's ability to recruit new officers.

At last week's police academy graduation, commissioner Raymond Kelly cited starting wages — $25,100 annually for new trainees during their six months in the academy, $32,700 once they graduate — as the main reason the department missed its recruiting target by more than 20 percent.

The academy graduated 1,359 new recruits last week, well short of Kelly's goal of 1,700 officers. Staten Island received 38 of those recruits, enough to keep the police presence here at status quo and fill in the gap left by retirements and promotions, according to NYPD officials.

But union officials contend it's not just the starting salaries that keep new recruits away.

NYPD officer salaries max out at $59,000 after five years of service, far below the maximum wages paid to Port Authority and Metropolitan Transit Authority officers, or to cops in nearby communities like Nassau and Suffolk counties.

"The problem is top pay," said Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch. "They don't see the light at the end of the tunnel or at the beginning of the tunnel."

Nassau County offers a lower starting salary than New York, but the maximum wages top $90,000 annually, he said.

Binding Arbitration

Last May, the PBA shot down a contract offer from the city that would increase the academy salary to $36,123 and the maximum to $63,109, but would fund those increases through a series of givebacks that would apply to new hires only, and would include 10 fewer vacation days and six fewer paid holidays. It would have also cut raises to 6.24 percent over two years, down from 10 percent.

Both sides are now poised to enter binding arbitration, the process that in 2004 left recruits with a $25,100 starting salary. Both the union and the Bloomberg administration blame each other for that turn of events.

"The best way for the PBA to achieve raises for their members that fit their priorities is to bargain at the table, not leave it up to an arbitrator," said Deputy Mayor Edward Skyler.

As arbitration moves closer, rookies, veterans and brass alike have registered gripes — all anonymously, out of fear of reprisal — to the Advance about the NYPD's low pay.

"There's nothing in my fridge right now," said one recent academy graduate. "It's really tough, not really having much money."

Still, he alluded to his desire to be a New York City cop, along with a hope that a new contract and future promotions would ultimately bring higher wages, as reasons to bear out the low pay.

"Me, personally, I'm looking down the long run," he said. "Hopefully, it'll be a lot better."

Second Jobs

Rookies often live at home with their parents while they go through the academy, and married recruits frequently rely on their spouse's income to help pull them through the six months of training, veteran sources say. After a year on the force, many request permission to work a second job, those sources say. They cannot make that request earlier.

One veteran source rejects any attempt to compare police officers' pay disputes with that of some other city workers. "As long as they're going to compare cops to the Sanitation workers or the hospital workers or the clerks, it's not going to work for the cops," said one veteran source. "That is ludicrous, that is absolutely ludicrous. You can't compare the danger. You can't compare being away from home on holidays. Now all of a sudden, you're being treated as any other union when it comes to negotiation."

Professor Maki Haberfeld, who chairs the department of law, police science and criminal justice administration at John Jay College, argues that current salaries simply won't attract "the best and the brightest" to the NYPD.

The city is also flirting with police corruption, she said, contending that underpaid police forces tend to veer toward temptation.

"In five to 10 years, the department will be in very poor shape if we continue to offer the pay and the lack of benefits that we offer right now," she said.

Factor in cost-of-living, and New York City ranks 157th in police pay out of the nation's largest 200 cities, said Matt Barnard, the editor of The PolicePay Journal, which is put out by the Oklahoma-based policepay.net, a police compensation consultant group that works with unions.

"When you think of the United States of America, what city do you first think of?" Barnard asks. "In our opinion, they should be the highest paid."

Advance staff writers Heidi Shrager and Jeff Harrell contributed to this report.

John Annese is a news reporter for the Advance. He may be reached at annese@siadvance.com.