August 10, 2003
By Joanne Wasserman
More and more people are shelling out the green for the NYPD blue.
A Police Department program that allows officers to moonlight in uniform — providing security for stores, neighborhood associations and even private citizens - has skyrocketed in popularity.
Nearly half the NYPD's 22,272 street cops have registered with the paid detail unit, which pays off-duty officers $30 an hour for shifts that can range from four to 12 hours.
Police officials say there was a spike in the number of companies that signed on after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack, and persistent concerns about security have boosted the program's popularity.
"Out of fear, they wanted to have some sort of extra protection," said Capt. William Mahaney, commanding officer of the unit, which assigns the officers on a rotating basis to paying customers.
Critics of the program, including the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, say officers are forced to take these jobs because their city salaries are too low.
They also say it stratifies the city, allowing those who can afford extra protection to buy it.
Nonetheless, the program has continually expanded since it began in 1998 with 40 cops, who were hired by the National Basketball Association to guard visiting players at hotels.
This year, as many as 150 cops work each day for 200 or more clients. Forty of those clients are considered steady employers, including Rockefeller Center, the "Today" show, Daffy's clothing stores, the World Financial Center, the Greenwich Village Alliance and Rochdale Village in Queens.
Occasional clients include 10 synagogues, Yankee Stadium and MTV.
Police officials said the service also has attracted some wealthy New Yorkers who want to hire New York's Finest, including New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams, who has used cops for parties at her upper East Side apartment, and a man who hired cops to work at his son's bar mitzvah.
"Quite frankly, I don't have any problem" with the program, said Honi Klein, executive director of the Village Alliance Business Improvement District, which hired cops to patrol Eighth St. between Fifth and Sixth Aves., as well as St. Marks Place.
"The merchants wanted people in uniform," Klein said. "When it comes to patrolling, they can become a little more intimately acquainted with merchants. [On-duty] officers have a much larger area to cover."
At a Barnes & Noble bookstore in Manhattan last week, a young officer said there was only one reason she was working there: She needs the dough.
"I have a daughter in private school," said the cop, who had just escorted a woman out of the store for loitering in the bathroom. "I have bills, and I don't make enough money."
She earns $34,000 a year as a second-year street cop. If she works one six-hour paid detail shift a week, it means an extra $180 for her family.
'On duty all the time'
If cops see a crime being committed where they are working, they are officially off the business' payroll as of that moment - and are expected to respond just as they would if they were off-duty, said Mahaney. "You're on duty all the time," he said.
"It's a shame that New York City police officers have to work these second jobs in the first place," said PBA President Patrick Lynch. "The program is filling a void, and the void is the city is not paying their police officers a professional salary."
Lynch also said the companies were paying for security "that New York City should be doing."
Robert McCrie, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said paying for extra security using city cops creates a double standard.
"The problem is, this resource is not being made available fairly to everybody," he said. "It has created an inequity."
Mahaney insisted the program is a win for everybody.
"The officers get a chance to earn extra income," he said. "Stores and other organizations get additional security, and the public benefits by having a uniformed presence over and above what's normally on duty."
The program also has begun to show financial benefit to the city.
In 2002, the city took in $431,000 in administrative fees that participants are required to pay. This year, the city has received $350,000 and expects that amount to double by year's end.
Thomas Reppetto, head of the Citizens Crime Commission, said the need for additional protection is "a fact of life in America today."
"There is a tremendous demand for security, and I don't think the Police Department could ever have the resources to cover all those requests," he said.
The unit started in 1998 with 40 cops a day. Now as many as 150 moonlight daily and 11,000 cops participate in the unit.