Staten Island Advance
January 25, 2007

More city cops defecting for higher pay

Surrounding departments are luring NYPD officers, police union chief says

By HEIDI J. SHRAGER
ADVANCE CITY HALL BUREAU

The NYPD pays its cops so little that they are leaving in droves for other, better-paying police departments, according to Patrick Lynch, president of the largest police union, the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.

"The problem is out of control," said Lynch during a news conference in the PBA's Lower Manhattan office. The number of resignations is "an extremely strong indicator of dissatisfaction within the ranks of the NYPD," he added.

Leveraging recent news of an NYPD staffing shortage during a bitter contract fight with the Bloomberg administration, Lynch contended the reason the city can't attract and hold onto police officers is because it doesn't pay them salaries comparable to surrounding jurisdictions like the Nassau and Suffolk Police departments, the Port Authority and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Lynch said 902 officers quit in 2006 -- all with fewer than five years on the job and therefore no pension benefits to gain. That's 42 percent more than the 635 who left in 2004, and nearly six times the number who quit in 1991, he said. The resignation numbers were compiled by the PBA and based on city figures and exit interviews, which showed that in most cases the officers said they were leaving for a better-paying police job, Lynch said.

Island PBA trustee George Winkler said the problem has a clear impact in the borough. "All the precincts on Staten Island are severely understaffed," said the Fort Wadsworth resident.

The North Shore's 120th Precinct, the busiest on the Island, has about 330 police officers, a number that should be closer to 400, according to Winkler. Nowadays a 4-to-12 shift in that precinct will turn out about four radio cars, compared to 10 to 12 when he was on patrol in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Winkler said. One result is that people reporting emergencies to 911 have to wait longer for police to show up, he added.

The quitting trend could give the union leverage in stalled negotiations for a two-year contract that ended in July 2006. Both sides are now in the process of choosing an independent state arbitrator, and blame each other for refusing to negotiate. This will be the fifth contract of the last six to go to binding arbitration.

The city's latest offer would raise top base pay from $59,588 to $63,309, an amount Lynch said is still far lower than surrounding jurisdictions. The MTA pays its police a base of $68,781; the Port Authority pays $80,720, and Suffolk County pays $94,417.

NYPD salaries began losing ground to surrounding departments in the early 1990s, just as crime started the long decline that now makes New York one of the safest big cities in the country. But cops have watched as pay climbed everywhere but here, said Lynch.

Noting that it costs the city $100,000 to recruit and train a single officer, Lynch estimated the exodus of 1,709 rookies in 2005 and 2006 represented a waste of $176 million.

"When that police officer who's fully trained, and earned experience on our streets, quits for another police department, that is an absolute waste of money," he said.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly responded that the attrition rate, excluding retirees, has remained steady at about 2 percent a year, low by most employers' reckoning.

Both Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg switched the focus from top pay to the department's ultra-low starting base pay of $25,100, which they claimed is hurting recruitment efforts. They once again blamed union leaders, saying they asked for binding arbitration in the last round of talks and then chose higher salaries for senior officers at the expense of rookies.

"They chose moving monies from the people who were joining the union to the people who were there a long time," said Bloomberg during an event in Brooklyn, adding that he hopes to fix the disparity in the next contract. "I think we said then it was not the smartest thing to do, but that's the PBA."

Kelly said the department is down 4,000 officers from where it was in 2001, and the low starting salary doesn't play well in recruitment campaigns. "We are in the most expensive city in America," he said. "It's difficult for us, challenging for us, to hire people with that number."

Heidi J. Shrager covers City Hall for the Advance. She may be reached at shrager@siadvance.com.