By Marco Poggio
Despite a plan to replace uniformed New York City Police Department officers working desk jobs with full-time civilian staffers, allowing the officers to return to law enforcement duties, experts say the pace of civilian hiring has slowed, raising concerns over the agency’s ability to reduce its operating budget.
According to a report released in March by the Independent Budget Office, a publicly funded budget watchdog agency, the NYPD has continued to hire new uniformed officers while the headcount for full-time civilian staffers has decreased in the current fiscal year, the opposite of what the de Blasio administration had planned.
Monica Klein, deputy press secretary for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said via email that the NYPD has been aggressively hiring and training new officers as part of de Blasio’s commitment to 1,300 new uniformed officers spelled out in the final negotiations for the current fiscal year’s budget.
“Now that that process is wrapping, the focus has moved to hiring (the) 415 new civilians,” Klein said, though she declined to say how many civilians have been hired so far.
In his testimony at a budget hearing in May, NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said the police force underwent a “robust civilianization program” that allowed it to redeploy 700 more uniformed officers to patrol.
An NYPD representative said in an email that the cumulative civilian headcount was 17,748 as of April 30. But that figure includes jobs that are not full-time – mostly school crossing guards and police cadets – a budget expert said.
Bernard O’Brien, the IBO senior budget analyst who authored the report, said the NYPD’s full-time civilian headcount actually declined by 95, from 14,535 in June 2015 to 14,440 at the end of April.
Joseph Giacalone, a retired detective sergeant who is now an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the NYPD has tried to “civilianize” its ranks for decades, but the plan slipped across administrations without ever coming to full fruition.
Replacing the large number of cops currently on desk duty with civilians would help reduce the department’s expenditures, because uniformed officers have a higher pay rate. It would also allow the police force to better utilize its resources by reassigning uniformed officers to direct law enforcement activities. But the NYPD struggles to find civilian staffers who are as effective as cops in certain positions, Giacalone said.
“Many civilians don’t understand the inner workings on how to run a police department, so we still end up putting cops back there eventually,” he said.
NYPD representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
There are certain areas where civilians are effective, such as intelligence analysis, social media work and filing duties. But precincts still need a heavy presence of uniformed officers to run their day-to-day operations, Giacalone said.
Over the years, the civilianization of the NYPD has been deemed an act of fiscal responsibility recommended by city comptrollers.
In his comments to the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2016, which ends June 30, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer reported that the NYPD had planned to increase its civilian headcount by 1,421 units, more than three times the number that ended up in the final budget proposal.
A spokesman for the comptroller’s office declined to comment on the administration’s step back in full-time civilian hiring mentioned in the IBO report.
“Progress along the civilianization front seems to have stalled,” O’Brien wrote in the report, adding that the hiring slowdown saved the NYPD $79 million of the $688 million budgeted for the salaries of new full-time civilians.
The savings may be temporary, however. Giacalone said hiring civilians would help save a “tremendous” amount of resources in the long run. To do so, the department will have to hire civilian staffers who can efficiently replace uniformed officers in certain positions.
Attracting potential candidates for civilian positions with salaries that are considered less than competitive has been a challenge for the NYPD, Giacalone said.
Police dispatchers and 911 operators careers pay a starting salary of $35,545, which can increase to a maximum of $48,127, according to the NYPD’s website. Clerical and data entry positions start at $32,888 per year. The starting salary for school safety agents is $31,259 and traffic enforcement officers receive a base pay of $29,217.
“If they really want to civilianize the police department, they’ll have to raise the salaries, raise the standards,” Giacalone said, “You can’t live in New York City on $30,000 a year.”