January 10, 2007

Surge in Arrests Has Courts Scrambling

Staff Reporter of the Sun

A change in police policy has caused a 22% surge in arrests across the city compared to last year, and courts are scrambling to keep up the pace, officials said yesterday.

At the start of the year, the police department removed internal caps on overtime spending because, a police spokesman said, officials want officers to feel comfortable making arrests any time during their shifts.

Traditionally, officers have been wary of making arrests near the end of their tour because the arrest process is time-consuming, and without overtime pay, not worth the time. Under the old system, any hours worked beyond the overtime cap would add to an officer's vacation time.

"Police officers are expected to make arrests when arrests are warranted," a police spokesman, Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, said. "The issue was addressed recently because we didn't want officers to misinterpret police department efforts to discourage overtime abuses as a bar against incurring overtime for arrests."

The end of the overtime caps was first reported in the New York Post.

From January 1 to January 7, officers made 8,402 arrests across the city compared with 6,901 during the same period in 2006. Officers in the 48th, 62nd, and 107th precincts doubled the number of arrests compared to 2006, and several precincts increased arrests by more than 50%. Many of the arrests were made by the detective's, organized crime control, and narcotics bureaus. Police statistics show crime complaints are down more than 3% for the same period.

Criminal courts in every borough except Staten Island were so full of detainees over the weekend that additional parts were opened and extra staff summoned, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, David Bookstaver, said.

"Our system has been strained," a spokesman for the Bronx District Attorney's office, Steven Reed, said. "We've had to use a lot of overtime. We've been swamped."

The Bronx had 455 more arrests last week than for the same period in 2006, a 28% increase.

Representatives for the Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens district attorneys also reported rises in the number of arraignments coming through the courts.

"We're planning on sitting down and talking with the police and the courts to come up with a plan in case this becomes a permanent situation," a spokesman for the Queens District Attorney's office, Kevin Ryan, said.

The president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, said in a statement that the policy change was "a direct result of the NYPD's recruitment and retention crisis, which exists because the city refuses to pay officers a competitive salary."

A professor of police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Eugene O'Donnell said: "It's a de facto raise, without giving them a raise. Without the caps they can make 20 or 30 grand in overtime."

The caps were originally put in place to help the department meet its overtime spending budget, which has been a chronic problem over the years, budget analysts said. Last year the department spent $151 million more than the about $260 million budgeted for overtime.

"Overtime is troubling in that it is a number that goes up every year, despite assurances that the police department will bring the number under control," a city councilmember and chairman of the public safety committee, Peter Vallone Jr., said.

If overtime use increases dramatically this year, it could mean the city will have to pay higher pension costs because an officer's total wages from their final year on the job are used to calculate pensions, the deputy research director of the Citizen's Budget Commission, Elizabeth Lynam, said.