May 17, 2006

NYPD Is Concerned About Drop in Applicants

Staff Reporter of the Sun

Even after cutting pay for recruits to $25,100, the New York Police Department has 14 applicants for every space available in the Police Academy. But the number of applicants is down 26.4% from last year, confirming the NYPD's concerns that the lower starting salary would reduce the department's options when hiring new police officers.

The drop in applications comes just as the city is boosting the number of uniformed police officers for the first time since 1993. In addition to adding 800 new uniform jobs and 400 civilian jobs over the next year, the department needs to add about 1,500 new officers every year to keep up with retirements and transfers to other law enforcement agencies.

The police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, vowed to hire only qualified people - even if that means the city is left with less than the number of openings the department wants to fill.

"We are not lowering our standards at all," Mr. Kelly told The New York Sun. "As far as I'm concerned if we don't get the numbers, we don't get the numbers."

The new salary applies while recruits are in training during their first six months on the job, and then jumps to $32,700. An Albany arbitration panel determined the new pay structure, which provided 10.2% raises to veteran officers years after the city and the police union were unable to reach a new contract last year.

The first year base pay for a New York City policeman ranks 159th in the country, below neighboring cities such as Yonkers, Buffalo, and Newark, N.J., according to Incorporated, a group that monitors police salaries across the country.

"I'm not certain how you could lower a salary by 40% and think that it may not actually affect recruiting," Mr. Kelly told the Sun. "This is arguably one of the most expensive cities in America."

But Mr. Kelly said the head of the arbitration panel, Eric Schwartz, predicted the new salary would not hurt recruiting.

Mr. Schwartz said yesterday that he had no regrets about the contract. He said there is nothing stopping the city from giving bonuses to new recruits or even upping their pay beyond the base level. Mr. Schwartz said the panel felt it was better to cut the pay for new recruits than skimp on raises for longtime officers.

"Historically there's always been some givebacks in these negotiations," he said, describing efforts to reach a contract. "The best option is to take it from those who are not yet police officers."

Under the new salary structure, police officers reach "top pay" of $59,588 after five and a half years. Officers also can make overtime and extra money by working the night shift and extra assignments. The contract came nearly three years after the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association's previous contract expired.

When the contract was announced last summer, the PBA president, Patrick Lynch, expressed skepticism about the salary cuts for new recruits. Yesterday, his spokesman said his fears became reality.

"The problem obviously is salary, but you won't fix it just by raising the starting salary," Mr. Lynch said in a statement. "In Nassau they start at $21,000 and have no trouble finding applicants. That's because after just a few years, they're earning $90,000, while our officers are earning $59,000. You do the math."

Last year, the police department received 29,193 applications to take the police exam in June, compared with 21,493 this year, police officials said. The gender and ethnicity breakdowns remain the same, police said.

The number of applicants for the police exam has fluctuated under changing circumstances in the past, including spikes after the police began online applications, after the September 11, 2001, attacks, and when the department loosened education requirements for joining the department.

A professor at New York University's Wagner School of Foreign Service who conducts studies for the police department, Dennis Smith, said the size of the pool is an important factor in getting qualified applicants.

"I'm just surprised it's taken this long," he said. "Assuming we're recruiting intelligent, rational people into the police force, what happened on the contract would clearly give them pause to apply."

The police department has long competed for police officers with neighboring cities and law enforcement agencies that pay more. The Port Authority, which pays officers as much as $20,000 more, frequently poaches from the NYPD.