According to speakers at a press conference on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday, April 18, the city is at its lowest police officer staffing levels in 20 years, down from 41,000 in 2001 to just over 34,000 on duty now.
There are currently roughly 3,000 officers behind a desk, a percentage of which are on disability, maternity, disciplinary action or are under investigation – leaving about 500 in clerical jobs for reasons that are so far unexplained, speakers said.
“These officers joined the police force to serve and protect, not to sort and direct phone calls,” Vallone said, adding that he sent a letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly asking for all the reasons why an officer could be put behind a desk.
Vallone's Republican counterpart, Councilman Dan Halloran, said because union workers don't have a 20-year service limit and are clerically trained, they can do the desk jobs more efficiently and cost the city less money.
The practice of staffing the Police Department's administrative duties with civilian personnel is known as “civilianization,” and could save the city as much as $16.5 million a year, according to DC 37. Civilianization would require roughly $10 million in civil salaries, but would reduce the need for overtime spending, budgeted at $418 million for Fiscal Year 2013.
“We have a dedicated group of civil servants who are willing, who are able and who can step in and decrease the city's budget by making sure safety comes first, because cops are on the street, and they're there at the precinct providing the support that is so needed and so critical at this time,” Halloran said.
Unions have been fighting with the city to keep civil servant positions for years, winning three arbitration judgments since 2004.
DC 37 and Local 1549 President Eddie Rodriguez said the city did comply with those judgments to an extent, but the process is slow.
“If it was up to me I would indict them, but I can't,” he said, referring to Kelly and Bloomberg.
Councilwoman Letitia James echoed that the issue is a matter of safety and fiscal responsibility.
“The mayor of the City of New York has been ordered to engage in civilianization, but unfortunately he has refused to abide by that decision,” she said. “At a time when we are seeing a slight increase in crime in some communities, now is a time when we put members of NYPD back on the street.”