September 19, 2006

Police See First Rise in Exam Applicants Since Recruit Pay Cut

Staff Reporter of the Sun

The number of people applying to take the next police exam is up versus a year ago, but the total is 33% lower than the applicants for the fall 2004 exam.

The 23,563 people who applied to take the October 28 exam is an 11% rise versus a year ago — the first increase since an arbitration panel cut the pay for police recruits in June 2005. About 35,000 people applied to take the exam at this time in 2004.

The department fills about 3,000 openings a year — 1,500 for each of two police academy classes. This year, the target is higher than previous years, after the mayor and the police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, announced they would add 800 uniformed officers to the department.

Since the arbitration panel decided to take away from the wages of new recruits to pay veteran police officers more, the number of applicants for the police exam plummeted. Between January 2005 and January 2006, about 20% fewer people applied for the police exam. Between May 2005 and May 2006, the drop was about 28%.

The arbitration panel set the salary for new recruits at $25,100 a year during their six months in the police academy. Under the plan, their pay rises to $32,700 when they leave the academy, and after one and a half years with the department it rises to $34,000. Top pay, the highest base salary a uniformed officer can make, is $59,588.

While the modest rise in applicants for October's exam, which prospective cadets had to apply for by last Friday, is a shred of good news for the police department, the task of recruiting enough officers to fill the roughly 3,000 slots that open up every year is still a problem. The number of cadets sworn into the department this year was more than 200 officers less than the target number.

Mr. Kelly has said in interviews and speeches over the last year that the pay cut has hurt the department's ability to recruit new cadets.

The president of the Patrolman's Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, said it wasn't just the starting pay that hurt recruitment, but the generally lower salary all NYPD officers are paid compared with officers in the Port Authority and in Nassau and Suffolk counties, as well as across the country.

"New York City has a serious problem recruiting qualified persons and has the additional problem of losing veterans by the hundreds each year to better paying police jobs," he said in a statement.

The director of career services at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Thomas Doyle, said potential police recruits are approached at career fairs by departments across the country. The Dallas Police Department took out an advertisement at Shea Stadium that promised a $10,000 signing bonus this year.

"The out of town departments are at the moment very competitive," he said. "But, if the student is interested in being with the NYPD, they'll do it. It's sort of a joke. They say,‘I'll live with my parents until I get on my own feet.' "

The problem of recruiting is likely to play a role in the next contract between the police and the city. The two sides have been meeting with mediators since the city declared an impasse in negotiations in July.

"It's a huge drop-off. It clearly indicates that there are fewer candidates, but numerically speaking, the opportunity to get better candidates has to be diminished," a professor of public labor law at Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Lee Adler, said.