This unreasonable pay scale arose from battles over the police unionís contract. When contract negotiations broke down in 2005, a state-appointed labor arbitration panel gave rank-and-file officers a 10 percent raise over two years. That would have been reasonable, if it had paid for the increase with productivity savings, as the city wanted. But it took the money from future recruits instead, lowering their paychecks by 27 percent.
It is a well-known rule of labor negotiating that the easiest groups to shortchange are the ones not at the table. But this strategy has its costs. New York City police recruits must have some college education, be in good health and meet a variety of other requirements. It is no wonder that when the city offered just over $25,000, it was able to hire just 1,100 recruits, not the 2,500 it had hoped to sign up.
That is a real problem because attrition and a recent rush of retirements make recruiting new officers especially important right now. The pay scale for the cityís police is low across the board, and the city regularly loses officers to better-paying departments in the suburbs. But the salary for new recruits takes this underpayment to a new level.
The jokes about New York City and crime are by now ancient history. New York remains the nationís safest large city, with a per capita crime rate lower than in some small cities. Many people deserve credit, especially the current police chief, Ray Kelly, who has done an exceptional job leading a department charged with counterterrorism duties as well as ordinary policing.
But a police department is only as good as its members. The city and the union are currently stalemated in negotiations over a new contract, and the union has stalled a city request for arbitration. Both sides have bemoaned the low pay for recruits; now they need to get to the table with ideas to raise it, so New York can get the quality of new officers it needs and deserves.