By ALISON GENDAR DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
March 3, 2005—Hungry for new recruits, the NYPD is hiring applicants with arrest records and shoving others through without full background checks, the Daily News has learned.
In recent years, the Police Department has knowingly hired New Yorkers who have been charged with laundering drug money, assault, grand larceny and weapons possession, according to documents and sources familiar with the recruiting.
The News reviewed a February report by the city's Commission to Combat Police Corruption that details many of the problems. The report found:
One of every five probationary cops in the January 2003 Police Academy class who were reviewed by the commission should have been disqualified by NYPD hiring standards.
One of every four of the same group should have been more closely investigated because of "negative information" in their backgrounds.
Half of the cops may not have met the NYPD residency requirements. The department never completed a full check before the recruits were hired.
The NYPD often failed to conduct full background checks, such as interviewing ex-wives and girlfriends.
"We are hiring people to be cops who have no respect for the law," said former NYPD Sgt. Anthony Petroglia, who worked in the department's applicant processing division for nearly 10 years before retiring in 2002.
"We are hiring people who were charged with crimes that get you thrown off the force if you do them in uniform," he said. "All we are doing is buying trouble for the future."
The News obtained the paperwork of half a dozen troubling hires, who were allowed to join the force. They include:
A man who admits he shot up anabolic steroids for years.
candidate fired from Macy's for allegedly stealing.
recruit who was fired from a security job because he repeatedly failed to show up and was habitually late.
NYPD investigators flagged many of the questionable recruits because of their arrest records or shady past. But after a review, police brass welcomed them to the ranks of the Finest.
NYPD Chief of Personnel Rafael Pineiro said the cases reviewed by The News were carefully vetted and met department standards.
In each case, the recruit's arrests - which included robbery, weapons possession and assault - were dismissed or pleaded down to less serious violations.
"I feel comfortable with these cases," Pineiro said. "We have certain standards and we met them."
Pineiro rejected the city commission's contention that much of the Class of 2003 should have been disqualified. But he conceded that extensive residency checks - where investigators talk with neighbors of recruits - may not be finished when new hires enter the Police Academy. He added that investigators do interview neighbors by phone before a candidate is hired.
NYPD officials argued that the quality of recruits was improving. Pineiro said 58% of the Police Academy class have an associate's degree or better. In addition, 33,000 people took the NYPD test last year, the most since 1993.
"We have hired some 8,000 candidates in the past 3-1/2 years," Pineiro said. "A handful of questions out of 8,000 is not a problem."
There is little dispute the NYPD is experiencing a brain drain. More than 10,500 veteran cops have retired from the force since 2001. An additional 3,477 cops have quit over the same period, with many jumping to higher-paying police jobs.
Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, said the NYPD will have to accept marginal recruits until the city gives cops a raise.
"Younger, well-qualified candidates are choosing other opportunities because they can't make a livable wage as aNew York City police officer," he said. "The result is people are becoming cops who should not."
Cops have been without a contract since August 2002.
NYPD hiring guidelines require candidates to be rejected if they have any conviction within two years, if the initial charge was a felony; more than one conviction in the past two to five years, if the initial charge was a felony, or more than two felony-based convictions over five years. Recruits also can get blacklisted if they have more than three moving violations in less than two years.
"It's all judgment calls - bad ones," said a retired cop who worked nearly a decade in the applicant processing division. "But the bosses say, 'Send 'em through. We'll catch the problem ones later.'"