The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association issued a warning last week about the future of policing in the city that underscored one of the union's most frequent complaints: that its members are paid significantly less than other cops in the area and around the country.
In an announcement, the union said, “A record number of police officers—more than 1,200—have registered for a pension seminar on Wednesday evening, the latest sign that the number of officers considering retirement is rapidly increasing. New York City police officers are among the lowest-paid both locally and nationally, and PBA members have cited this pay gap–along with sinking morale caused by a lack of support–as the chief reasons for exploring their retirement options.”
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The announcement continued, “In another troubling trend, the number of police officers leaving the NYPD without receiving a pension reached a six-year high in 2017, with 517 resigning in comparison with the 169 who quit in 2011. This wave of resignations has included top NYPD Police Academy graduates, including the valedictorian of one recent Academy class who left for another local police job paying 43 percent more.”
The union also pointed to a survey it took of its members in 2016 that found they ranked their morale at 2.45 on a scale of 10. The survey, based on voluntary responses from the membership, found that 92 percent believed that support for police had decreased under Mayor de Blasio.
PBA President Patrick J. Lynch said: “The signs are all there: the lowest pay, survey numbers that demonstrate officer dissatisfaction, a serious increase in resignations without a pension and the highest number of registrations for our latest pension seminar. It’s a formula for losing our best, brightest and most-experienced police officers, and that’s a problem for the whole city. But it’s a problem that would easily be solved by paying our police officers a market rate of pay.”
In the 1960s, NYPD salaries were among the highest in the area, but since then they have seriously eroded because of financial problems and the city’s insistence on pattern bargaining.
Meanwhile, suburban departments saw substantial salary growth, partly because police-union endorsements there hold greater sway with voters and partly because in many cases pay was decided by arbitration rather than negotiation.
“Arbitrators are required to consider the raises and pay of police in similar jurisdictions and they have historically viewed Nassau and Suffolk as the most similar comparison for each other,” Newsday wrote in 2011. “If Nassau or Suffolk police get a raise, it drives up pay for the other department at the next arbitration.”
Suffolk says its officers earn top pay of $111,506 after 12 years. Fort Nassau, the figure is $111,075 after nine years. Top pay for a Port Authority police officer is $90,000 after five years. In the Westchester County Police Department, it is $101,058 after five years. In the relatively crime-free New Jersey borough of Saddle River, the median salary for a police officer is $155,508.
NYPD 'Max' Lags
The NYPD’s recruitment page lists top salary for a police officer at $85,292 after 5½ years.
Mr. Lynch has tried to break the pattern through occasional negotiation and frequent arbitration but hasn’t had much success.
In 2014, arbitrator Howard Edelman cited the pattern in denying the PBA’s request for bigger raises, saying that giving the union what it wanted would throw the entire NYPD salary structure out of whack. The PBA was so angry that members demonstrated outside Mr. Edelman’s Upper East Side apartment, and the union for an extended period of time balked at paying the balance of his fee.
In January 2017, the city gave the PBA an extra 2.25 percent above the pattern for uniformed employees, which was 11 percent over seven years. The extra pay was tied to the neighborhood-policing initiative. The other four police unions promptly went to court complaining that the city had broken the pattern.
Council Sounds Alarm
The PBA announcement quoted a half-dozen City Council Members saying, in the words of Rory Lancman, "Record numbers of cops signing up to learn about their retirement options should be setting off alarm bells at City Hall that it's time to give the men and women who keep us safe salaries and benefits commensurate with their risks and sacrifices.”
However, none of them addressed the financial implications of raising salaries for the PBA’s more-than 22,000 members now on the job. Some of them echoed Public Safety Committee Chair Donovan Richards's comments: “I’m committed to work with my colleagues in the Council to do our part."
Freddi Goldstein, a spokeswoman for Mr. de Blasio, said, "New York City's officers are extraordinary, which is why their overall compensation is among the best in the country.”
City officials said the announcement was nothing more than a bargaining tactic.