June 28, 2002
By Reuven Blau
Thousands of applicants are gearing up to take the June 8 New York City Police Officer exam while states across the country struggle to recruit.
Department of Citywide Administrative Services statistics show a total of 32,000 have applied for upcoming tests, the largest number since June 1986 and a 160-percent jump from the 12,292 who took the test a year ago. The exam will also be held in the evening on June 7 and on June 13 and 23.
'See How Many Pass'
Police union leaders are skeptical of any suggestion that the surge of interest in the NYPD represents a turn-around for the department. The unions have attributed low turnout for recent tests to the department's salary schedule, which lags behind nearby jurisdictions.
"The city is trumpeting the wrong end of the process. What they should focus on is how many people show up for the test, and how many pass it," said Patrolmen's Benevolent Association President Patrick J. Lynch.
One likely factor in the surge in applications this year is the department's Internet application site, which was created to make applying easier and faster. A $35 application fee was dropped last year.
In previous years, the dropout rate for the test has approached 50 percent. The last set of exams, given in November, had 14,600 applicants, but only 7,123 took the test.
This year, however, the NYPD is running a special program called "Operation Show-Up" where candidates who applied online are e-mailed reminders, and other applicants are sent postcards and called by phone.
"We tripled our efforts at colleges," added Captain Martin Morales, the commanding officer for recruitment. He said 69 percent of the applicants had some type of college credits, putting them on the way toward meeting the department's 60-credit requirement.
'Quality's the Key'
Veteran observers of the recruitment process urged the NYPD to dig deeper. "Recruitment is not a numbers game, and more emphasis should be placed on attaining quality applicants," said Karen Amendola, Chief Operating Officer for the Police Foundation Institute for Integrity, Leadership and Professionalism.
Detective's Endowment Association President Thomas J. Scotto said he believed that the recent surge in interest in New York is in part due to Sept. 11 and the heroic image burnished by the NYPD's response to the terrorist attacks. "Before Sept. 11, the law enforcement [profession] was taking a real beating; now there is nothing but praise being heaped on it," Mr. Scotto said.
Mr. Scotto believes that other factors such as job security and tough economic times have also played a role in making the job more appealing.
PBA spokesman Al O'Leary concurred, adding, "There is a certain mystique working for the New York Police Department."
Doesn't Buy It
Peter Dodenhoff, editor of Law Enforcement News, a John Jay College of Criminal Justice publication, downplayed the effect of Sept. 11, however, saying, "The appeal to patriotism can't explain much or all of it." He opined that while the Fire Department is still enjoying a positive image, "the honeymoon ended real quickly for the Police Department."
In searching for new applicants, local departments in some states have relaxed standards by allowing candidates to enter with a high school degree instead of demanding two or four years of college, said Mr. Dodenhoff. "Clearly it is because they are not getting enough applicants," he said.
He cited the Bangor, Maine Police Department, which recently dropped a decade-long two-year college requirement. Additionally, other departments that did not previously hire convicted drug offenders are now dropping that restriction.
According to Captain Morales, competing against other departments has not been a problem for the NYPD, despite the department's comparatively low starting salary of $31,305, the high cost of living in the city, and the requirement that candidates have the equivalent of two years' college study.
Ms. Amendola agreed, "The ones who have the most success recruiting aren't the highest-paid," she said.
At a recent out-of-state test held at the Camp Lejeune, N.C. military base, eight other departments had a difficult time attracting candidates, garnering a combined 66 test-takers. The NYPD, however, had 308 take the test at the base.
"When one department heard that we were giving our test on the same day as they were, they decided not to give their test then," said Captain Morales. Many of the applicants taking the NYPD test were New York residents away for military training.
Boffo in Boston
The NYPD recently tested in the Boston area and was forced to turn away 700 candidates. They also set out recruiting at Ivy League schools, though Captain Morales said that "giving the test at Harvard was more of a symbolic move."
The Harvard location was chosen by Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who took graduate courses there, because the NYPD had received many online applications from people in the Boston area. Another test will be held there this fall.
Mr. O'Leary emphasized the need for higher pay at the NYPD, contrasting it to the Port Authority, where experienced cops can earn up to $20,000 more a year. "In the recent Port Authority class, 85 percent of them were trained by the NYPD. Recruitment is meaningless unless you can retain" he said.