NYPD, Union Joust Over Guns Behind Desks


The push to put more of Kelly’s heroes on the street

The comic relief at Tuesday’s City Council hearing on the NYPD budget came when Commissioner Ray Kelly, fending off a tough interrogation by Councilwoman Margarita Lopez of Manhattan, made a reference to Allan Jennings.

“He and I are different people,” Lopez noted wryly to the commissioner, as a room packed with green-shirted DC-37 union members giggled at the mention of the Brooklyn Councilman recently censured for harassing two aides. Added Queens councilman Peter Vallone, Jr., “We’d rather not talk about him.”

The reason for Kelly’s invoking Jennings’s name was the same reason the DC-37 members were attending the hearing: desk jobs being held by cops that could be done by civilians. Jennings had at an earlier hearing displayed what he said was a list of such jobs. The union people were there to jeer Kelly into coverting more of them.

When your intrepid reporter was being processed as an NYPD applicant many years ago, one striking thing was the number of people with guns on their hips doing what amounted to clerical work. The guys who took us through the background-check paperwork were officers. So were the fatherly detective who led us into the medical screening, the tough young cop who checked my eyes, and the quick-witted veteran who organized us for the “How fat are you?” test.

It probably wasn’t the job those cops dreamed of doing when they signed up for the force. It’s also an expensive way to do business, since training, equipping, insuring, and paying an armed cop is more costly than hiring Joe Civilian to push paper. With money in mind, the police department has been under pressure for years to convert more uniformed jobs to civilian. Now they are compelled to do it, after a September 2004 arbitration ruling that a police clerical union won.

“I’ve always been a supporter of civilianization,” Kelly told the committee—unless “in fact the civilianization proposal means a reduction in uniformed headcount.” But no one on the committee was proposing a cut to the number of cops. Instead, the disagreement is over the size and speed of the NYPD’s plans to convert jobs from uniform to civilian.

In this year’s budget, the NYPD only plans to convert 90 police posts to civilians, which a city council budget report calls “vastly inadequate.” Kelly himself says at least 700 jobs done by cops could be civilianized. Other estimates of the number of possible positions for civilianization run up to 3,500, a figure Kelly calls “just absolutely a preposterous number.”

Whatever the target number is, the NYPD is struggling just to stay at par. According to the preliminary 2005 Mayor’s Management Report, the number of civilian NYPD workers dropped by several hundred in the first four months of this fiscal year.

Kelly said part of the reason is that civilian posts have higher turnover. “It’s work that needs to be done so a police officer comes in to fill these positions,” the commish said. But later on Kelly added an important point: There are also police officers who, perhaps for disciplinary or health reasons, are placed on restricted duty. They need something to do. That’s one reason that, while the NYPD counts 36,372 uniformed cops in the MMR, it lists 4,500 (or 12 percent) fewer as part of the “operational strength pool.”