Rich police?

Posted: Jan 20, 2003 12:00 AM
There is great moaning in New York City because Mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced his intention to reduce the police department budget by 3 percent. Reducing the police force is generally thought, and understandably so, to be the equivalent of reducing the blood supply: quite simply, something one does not do.

This reaction is especially keen among those who remember the long years in New York City when crime was king. Crime is hardly yesterday's problem, but the reduction of crime is nationwide, for reasons left to sociologists. But it is unrealistic and wrong to fail to acknowledge the role of police, and the tougher penalties for criminals. A thief in jail menaces nobody's property.

But the implied parallel -- more police, less crime -- isn't rigorous. If 1,000 police bring about crime reduction to 1,000 crimes, it does not follow that 2,000 police would mean 500 crimes. That is a paralogism. An attempt to pursue it would have you saying 3,000 police equal 250 crimes, 4,000 equal 125 crimes, 5,000 equal 62.5 crimes. You run out of criminals and police academies, and, incidentally, out of money.

I stare at a report undertaken by the Stamford Advocate in Stamford, Conn., which lists the 100 highest-paid city servants. One learns that the mayor of Stamford, Daniel Malloy, comes in at No. 83. His pay is $107,000 (I will round out the last three digits). For whatever reason, he took home a little more than his base pay, grossing $110,000. Without digging out mayors' salaries in other cities of equivalent size and resources, one's reaction is: That's about what to expect.

The city employee at the bottom of the list of the top 100 is a "police officer." But mark this. His salary was $59,000, but he took home $107,000. Roughly speaking, twice his salary.

Move, now, to the top-earning city servant. He is the superintendent of schools. His salary was $251,000; his gross, $244,000. It isn't explained why he lost $7,000. Maybe an illiterate student was found and laid at his door.

But now it becomes interesting. The second-highest-paid worker is described simply, "Police captain." His salary was $85,000. But wait. He grossed $207,000. That's overtime or supplementary pay of $122,000. That means the police captain earned in extra pay a sum greater than the base pay of the mayor of Stamford.

So it goes. The No. 3 earner is "Police sergeant" -- sergeant, not admiral, or general. Base pay is $65,000; take-home pay, $169,000. Two and a half times base pay.

The Advocate's headline: "Police Are/Prominent/On City's/Pay Chart." Subhead: "21 of 25 Highest-paid/Workers Are Officers."

The writer parses the pay of Capt. Richard Conklin, who is head of the department's narcotics and organized crime unit. Capt. Conklin made $85,000 in base pay, $44,000 in overtime, $76,000 in extra-duty pay, and $1,420 in overtime paid by the Board of Education.

The reader tends to ask, What is the difference between "overtime" and "extra duty"? Can someone do both at the same time? If not, and if compensation is even, and $85,000 was right for 40 hours per week, $44,000 would suggest an additional 20 hours. And $76,000 yet an additional 37 hours. That would be a work week of 97 hours per week. Assuming he did not work on Sundays, that would have him working 16 hours every day, six days a week, which makes life tough on the family, to say nothing of Capt. Conklin.

The mayor was defensive about all of this when questioned by the reporter. He said that some of the "extra-duty" work is paid for by "non-city" sources. Thus, the police officer who does "extra work" for the Stamford Mall is paid by the mall. The mayor adds that it is cheaper to pay overtime to existing staff than to hire brand-new police officers to do the work.

All of that has not closed off criticism. Board of Finance member Joseph Tarzia said police salaries were "outrageous."

All of this, on the New York City scene, will be intensively examined in the quarrels and palaver over Mayor Bloomberg's proposed cuts. The Stamford preview will cause a burdened citizenry to ask not only the obvious question -- Have payrolls got out of hand? -- but derivative questions. Are the police overburdened? How much of their time is consumed smelling out 18-year-olds smoking marijuana?

And at the other end of the scale, every policeman on the Stamford list is, by the rhetoric of the Democrats who rail against the Bush tax cuts, including Mayor Malloy, "rich." Your local police officer in Stamford -- by the ranking of critics looking for the rich and starting in at $100,000 -- is rich.