December 3, 2004
By Reuven Blau
The union representing Police Officers cautioned last week that the Bush administration’s decision to drastically reduce funding for a grant program that put more officers on the streets nationwide may lead to a further cutback in the city’s force.
Since 1996, the Police Department has had to maintain a baseline number of officers in order to remain eligible for the Federal grant known as the Universal Hiring Program. For the NYPD that number has been 37,210 uniformed officers.
Fears Plunge in Staff
An official from the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association claimed last week that the NYPD will likely reduce its headcount if it gets a waiver from the requirement or chooses not to apply for the grant.
“Without the target number, the department will plummet,” asserted PBA spokesman Al O’Leary. “They are having a difficult time keeping officers on the job.”
But NYPD Inspector Michael Coan said no changes are planned. “The current staffing will remain right around 37,000,” he said. “Any new grant funding doesn’t affect the current status.”
The department had used the grant money to employ an additional 4,730 officers over the past several years at a cost of $414 million, according to Gilbert Moore, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
Founded by Clinton
The hiring program was established during the Clinton administration in 1994 after the President vowed to put 100,000 new officers on the streets nationwide. The program is designed to supplement police agencies’ headcount and boost the number of patrol cops in an attempt to reduce violent crime.
Under the grant, the added officers are paid $25,000 for each of their first three years – covering more than half their base salaries in each year. By the fourth year, the officers’ full salaries are paid by their departments.
The Bush administration, however, has phased out the grant, which became an issue during the presidential election. President Bush maintained that the program was cut back because the original hiring objectives had been met. “It was created with a specific goal, which we met and exceeded,” said Justice Department spokesman John Novacki last week. In all, 118,000 cops were hired with funds from the grant.
Mr. Bush also noted that President Clinton cut the program by over 70 percent in fiscal year 2000, from $1.4 billion to $389 million. There is currently only $10 million earmarked for the grant this fiscal year in the proposed Federal budget.
Might Seek Waiver
Mr. Moore said that the NYPD had indicated it might try to seek a waiver, which would allow it to reduce its baseline number of officers and still remain eligible for the grant. It is unclear what the department’s new baseline number of officers would be under the proposed waiver. Whatever money the department may get via the grant, however, would be minimal.
“New York City needs to take advantage of every Federal dollar for police it can,” said PBA President Patrick J. Lynch. “We have 5,000 fewer police officers on our streets today than in 1999. With New York City as the nation’s number one target for terrorism, the NYPD should be growing not shrinking.”
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly cited the program last January when he announced that the department would be hiring 3,000 officers within the year. The Commissioner said then that the department was adding the officers in order to remain eligible for the grant and to offset attrition. Mayor Bloomberg announced during his State of the City address earlier this year that the NYPD would regularly appoint two Academy classes each year, one in January and one in July.
Leaving Early, Often
The PBA has argued that the increased hiring is necessary because officers are leaving in droves to work in higher-paying jurisdictions nearby. Mr. O’Leary also claimed cops are no longer staying beyond 20 years when they are eligible for retirement. “It’s tragic, because those are the officers that know the city streets,” Mr. O’Leary said.
The number of officers resigning has also swelled in recent years, according to the PBA. In fiscal year 1991, a total of 159 officers resigned, compared to 811 cops in 2003, Mr. O’Leary said.
“It used to be people on the job would recommend the job; that doesn’t happen anymore,” he added. “I discouraged my own son from becoming a cop.”