The Billboard is Gone Now...

Pedestrians used to the dizzying array of times square signage, and the glowing super-sized McDonald’s kiosk, might be forgiven for a studied indifference to the a recent salvo in the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association’s attempt to negotiate a new contract with the city—a massive billboard replete with it’s own little zipper relentlessly insisting that “NYC cops deserve better pay”.

Perched on the north side of 42nd street, just east of Eighth Avenue, the billboard stridently insists that while New York City’s Cops are “#1 in crime fighting” they are “145 in the nation in salary”. Framed by the empire state building on one side and the torch of lady liberty on the other, the ad lists the 144 police departments that ostensibly pay better than New York’s deserving finest.

As it turns out though, a police officer’s salary is almost as impenetrable as those of some corporate CEO’s. And while cops don’t get stock options, looking at a cop’s base salary can be as misleading as assuming that Louis Gerstner only earned 2 million dollars in 2001. (His actual income from IBM was over 50 times that).

So while it is true that a police officer’s starting salary is just over $39,000. That figure doesn’t include uniform allowances, holiday pay, night shift differentials, pension contributions, travel expenses, unlimited sick leave that averages nearly a month per year, generous vacation and personal time which adds more than another month a year just for rookies, and of course, overtime. And where overtime is concerned, the NYPD is a major consumer. Indeed, a number of officers are able to double their salaries on overtime alone. According to the city’s independent budget office, in the first three months of fiscal year 2004, cops racked up $125 million in overtime alone—a pace that would exceed budgeted overtime by nearly $200 million.

Of course, few of the cities 34,000 cops are rookies. Most are veterans. And, assuming that an officer has failed after 10 years, to make sergeant (base salary of $69,300) lieutenant (79,547) or Captain (103,577), he or she can still look forward to a base salary of well over $60,000--, and (between average sick leave, personal time, vacation time and paid holidays) nearly three full months of vacation each year.

And aside from the interesting question of what makes a police department #1 in “crime fighting”, the relationship between police pay and crime fighting is anything but obvious. For example, in the 2000 Fiscal year, before 9-11 made things even crazier, the city spent 237 million dollars just on police overtime--Much of it attributable to Giuliani quality of life offensives. And what did that mean in terms of crime fighting—plenty of arrests, but paradoxically, a 15 percent drop in major felony arrests, with a skyrocketing arrest rate for misdemeanor marijuana possessions—twice as many as the year before. So it may well be true that for 237 million dollars in police overtime we can crack down on the weed scourge in the city, and it may even be that this makes the NYPD #1 in crime fighting, but what the belligerent times square billboard conspicuously fails ask, is: Is it worth it?

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