Exclusive: NYPD officers and pay

February 4, 2009 6:13:30 PM PST
An Eyewitness News investigation has revealed a dramatic increase in the number of NYPD officers leaving for better paying jobs.So how much is it costing the department and the taxpayers?

An arbitration panel is meeting on a possible new contract for the NYPD's 35,000 officers. In 2005, the arbitrator slashed rookie pay by almost a third.

That decision has been a boon to police departments in other towns, as officers leave the force for better pay. Our investigative team has found the flight of police from the city appears to be accelerating.

The Investigator's Jim Hoffer has the story.

Puppeteers in Central Park make more money than NYPD police rookies. A rookie cop's starting salary is just $25,100. Is it any wonder that many of them are leaving for better paying jobs as small-town cops? When the most expensive city in the country pays its crime fighters a starting salary of just more than $25,000, consequences follow.

"The salary was reduced 40 percent, the starting salary," NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said. "So this is what this department has had to address."

To gauge the impact, we filed a Freedom of Information request with the city to find out how many police officers were resigning for better paying jobs as cops in the suburbs. The NYPD said it would take at least until July to determine whether it had that information.

That's when we decided to do our own research, for months calling police departments throughout the greater New York area.

The numbers add up to a virtual exodus of NYPD officers. In just the last two years, hundreds of city cops, many of them rookies, have handed in their badges and headed to the suburbs for better pay. The numbers are likely much higher, since many departments, such as the state police, refuse to disclose that information. Still, we documented that in a 24-month period, more than 400 NYPD officers quit their jobs to join other forces.

"It'll save us thousands of dollars by taking them just in the training," Middletown police sergeant Paul Rickard said.

Middletown, New York, has hired eight NYPD officers in the last two years. Each of them was already academy trained at city taxpayers' expense of $80,000 per officer.

"It's a huge savings for us," Rickard said. "We save the training cost, we save the cost of the academy itself."

Middletown officer Michael McDonald left the NYPD after just nine months.

"I lived at home with my parents, because I couldn't afford to have an apartment," McDonald said.

The move to Middletown brought an immediate $15,000 boost in his pay.

"I would have definitely stayed a little longer," he said. "I actually thought I was going to, and I got the phone call to come up here. So I came as soon as I could."

Middletown officer Colleen Macrae also left the NYPD shortly after graduating from the academy.

"My dad used to give me cash so I could pay for food during the week," she said. "It was like an allowance. It's pretty sad being an adult and your parents having to basically give you an allowance just because you don't make enough money at work."

While the starting salary at the NYPD is $25,100, Middletown cops start at more than $45,000.

"A good percentage of the people I've known from the academy are making an exodus out of New York City to go to other departments," former NYPD officer Andre Vincent said. "I can think of at least 10 officers."

"We will pay a price down the road," NYU professor Dennis Smith said.

Smith, an expert on police and public policy, says the decrease in the starting salary threatens to weaken the NYPD and reverse the crime-fighting gains that helped fuel the city's economic boom.

Hoffer: "Do you think that we are starting to see some kind of adverse impact because of these low wages for the police officers?"
Smith: "Starting with the fact that we are losing people at the academy itself, the answer is yes...If we don't pay attention to who we recruit or how we compete in the recruiting of police officers, it is going to effect us for years to come."

Our repeated request for an interview with Commissioner Kelly were ignored. The fate of police salaries is in the hands of the arbitrator.