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Following a year during which officers retired or resigned in greater numbers than at any time in 20 years, the NYPD's uniformed ranks are their lowest in more than a decade.
The officer headcount as of Dec. 8 numbered just under 34,000, according to the NYPD, about 1,000 fewer cops than are budgeted for the current fiscal year.
A significant reason for the decline is the number of officers who have quit the department while in or close to the prime of their careers. Worryingly for the department, 1,297 cops with either less than five years on the force, or who were vested but transferred to another department in New York State, left the NYPD last year, according to Police Pension Fund data.
In total, 1,746 officers left before they had reached 20 years on the force, the usual time it takes to receive a full pension, an analysis of the pension fund data by the Police Benevolent Association determined.
Another 1,955 cops retired. Counting both resignations and retirements, fully 10 percent of officers who were on the force at the start of the year or joined in 2022 — 3,701 cops — left the NYPD last year.
The number of quits in 2022 was 40 percent higher than the 1,245 who left in 2021 and the highest number since the 1,390 officers who left in 2002 before their 20-year career anniversaries.
The reasons for the departures are manifold and varied, but foremost would be the defund movement and anti-cop sentiments that followed the killings by police of Eric Garner on Staten Island, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, George Floyd in Minneapolis and others.
Burnout attributable to the pandemic, during which cops’ roles in ensuring residents were masked and businesses adhered to pandemic protocols, also certainly contributed. The city’s Covid vaccination mandates were no doubt another factor. The virus also laid up nearly one in five officers by April 2020.
NYPD officials in both the Adams and de Blasio administrations, along with police unions, have cited liberalized bail laws that they say return offenders to the streets soon after their arrests as another reason for the exodus. And city legislation enacted in 2020 that makes it unlawful for officers to use certain restraints on suspects is also thought to have left cops could also have contributed.
“The NYPD’s staffing emergency is a vicious downward spiral. The low pay and crushing workload are driving the Finest away, and the short staffing is making conditions unbearable for the cops who remain,” the PBA’s president, Patrick J. Lynch, said in an emailed statement. “New York City needs to follow the lead of cities around the country, by investing in paying and treating police officers like professionals.”
Through last year, 9,827 NYPD officers have left the department since 2020, while 6,884 were hired, according to Police Pension Fund data and an analysis by the PBA. The latter number, though, includes about 600 currently going through academy training.
“The NYPD regularly monitors attrition and plans accordingly to address the decline in the number of officers who retire or leave the Department for a variety of reasons,” a police spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
The department did not respond to a question about its recruitment efforts.
‘Shrinking at a staggering rate’
The issue is not endemic to New York. Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said resignations of early career police officers are on the increase nationwide. What’s just as concerning is the dearth of prospective candidates, he said. The workforce, Wexler said, “is shrinking at a staggering rate.”
While policing has always had very particular demands and burdens, those have been compounded by increased scrutiny and more oversight.
“You always had certain challenges, but I think now there's a fear that making a mistake, not only will you lose your job, but you could be prosecuted. Not many occupations have that kind of risk factor,” Wexler said.
For both prospective cops and those already on the job, “that kind of risk makes them think twice,” he said. Policing “has become far more high risk than ever,” he added.
According to respondents to an early 2022 survey by the Police Executive Research Forum, there were 42.7 percent more officer resignations in 2021 than in 2019. Retirements also increased significantly, rising 23.6 percent over that period. Overall, the number of officers decreased 3.48 percent during the two-year period of 2020 and 2021, according to survey results.
An ever-increasing number of cops who have left the NYPD are joining other law-enforcement agencies in neighboring — and better paying — jurisdictions, such as Nassau and Suffolk counties. Some are joining departments in other states.
Municipalities from out of state, also contending with police recruitment issues, noted that discontent within the NYPD, with some taking out subway advertisements in a bid to lure city cops to their own departments.
At least one department held a recruitment drive in the city last year, when, in August, the Aurora, Colorado, police department held a five-day “lateral hiring event” at the Fairfield Inn & Suites on West 33rd Street.
One of the recruiters said that she and other Aurora officers would be pitching their department in other cities. New York, though, was the first on their itinerary given, she said, NYPD officers’ dissatisfaction regarding mandatory overtime, high crime, a lack of support from lawmakers and increasingly liberal law-and-order policies.
The Aurora PD, the officer said, would offer recruits salaries as high as $100,000, along with hiring and academy bonuses and a relocation stipend to come to Colorado, where the cost of living is significantly lower than in the New York metropolitan area.
New York City cops, on the other hand, are paid $42,500 a year in base salary for their first 18 months on the job. Their pay increases modestly during their few years on the force. The relative payoff comes after five and a half years, when officers start to earn $85,292. Those figures can increase with overtime and slightly according to a “neighborhood policing” differential.
Starting pay will very likely increase in the coming months: The union and city officials have for months been in contract arbitration regarding a new agreement to replace the one that expired in 2017. Officers already on the force will also be due retroactive pay, with those who joined a few years ago owed a good chunk.
Still, Wexler said, “you're dealing with a new landscape that is simply hard pressed to attract enough candidates and pay them a competitive salary. And if they don't get that competitive salary, there's so many other agencies out there now that it doesn't take much to attract a candidate away from the city.”
City and police officials will be hoping that increased salaries will be enough to attract more candidates to what NYPD and city officials have long described as the world’s greatest police department: 11,399 officers — slightly more than one-third of the force — have more than 15 years on the job, and 3,384 of them have more than 20, bringing them ever closer to retirement.
Wexler, noting that cities offering significantly higher starting salaries, such as San Francisco and Seattle, also faced recruitment and retention challenges, suggested New York would still face challenges.
“This particular occupation comes with opportunities and risks,” Wexler said, “and sometimes those risks can overwhelm prospective candidates.”
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