By Magdalene Perez
NEW YORK CITY — On a day that the New York Police Department's cadet graduating class fell far short of its goal of 2,800 new officers, researchers and city officials yesterday wondered if an increasingly stretched police force can continue to keep crime rates down.
"This problem is reaching crisis proportions," said City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), head of the Public Safety Committee. "I can think of no other city in the country that's been downsizing since 9/11. We need boots on the ground now more than ever."
While 1,097 cadets graduated yesterday, the department is 1,828 short of the number of officers it is allowed to hire this year, an NYPD spokesman said. The size of the force has declined as officers retire or leave the city to work in higher-paying areas.
Critics have said the city is unable to attract enough recruits because NYPD salary levels are not competitive with those in the suburbs, including Long Island. Police academy recruits start at $25,100, a rate that's lower than newly hired sanitation workers, Central Park gardeners and plumbing inspectors. Top pay maxes out at $59,588.
"Virtually any police department within a one hour's drive of New York City is paying police more," said Al O'Leary, spokesman for the Patrolman's Benevolent Association. "The only thing that will solve this recruiting problem is to increase the top pay."
Starting pay for new officers was $36,000 until 2005, when an arbitrator resolved the police union's contract negotiations with the city by slashing entry-level salaries while awarding a 10.25 percent retroactive raise for those already on the force.
NYPD Chief of Personnel Rafael Pineiro testified at a City Council hearing earlier this month that manpower on the force is down by nearly 5,000 from October 2000, when it was at a high of 41,000 officers.
Researchers studying a NYPD crime-fighting tactic introduced in 2003 that uses rookie cops to flood violent crime "hot spots" said they were concerned that a downturn in recruitment could jeopardize continued citywide decreases in crime.
"If you don't get them into the force and get them excited, then it will be very difficult," said New York University professor Dennis Smith. "If we decide that Operation Impact is worth investing in, maybe that will turn things around."
The study, funded by the NYPD and released yesterday, found that the crime-cutting initiative called Operation Impact was key to reducing violent crime in the city even as crime increased slightly on the national level last year.
"We're seeing an acceleration in the rate of decline," Smith said. "One of the things that impressed us was that this was achieved with rookies coming out of the academy."
Smith, of NYU's School of Public Service, called the program a cost-effective way to control crime and said he hoped the city would recognize the need to further invest in recruitment.
Copyright 2007 Newsday Inc.
NYPD manpower at 'crisis proportions'