Report City Budget

Preserving Police Services In Tough Fiscal Times

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December 03, 2002

Executive Summary

The City of New York is facing hard times. Its budget is precariously balanced in this fiscal year following a substantial mid-year revision to close a $1 billion gap, and the Mayor and City Council must close unprecedented gaps in each of the next three fiscal years.

In these difficult times, the uniformed services will be under fiscal scrutiny. The four uniformed departments—Police, Fire, Correction and Sanitation—were allocated more than 14 percent of the City’s current budget. Moreover, these agencies receive relatively little intergovernmental aid. As a consequence, they represent more than one-fifth of all locally funded expenditures.

For the uniformed services, expenditure cuts typically are personnel cuts. Fully 88 percent of their budgets are for personnel, and in the Police Department, the figure is 94 percent. However, less spending need not mean reduced services. Improved productivity can protect services in times of budget cuts. This report focuses on ways the Police Department can maintain services while contributing to gap-closing programs. Three measures are recommended to save a total of $251 million annually.


The background for productivity initiatives in the New York City Police Department (NYPD) has four aspects—the dramatic reduction in crime in recent years, the pattern of management in the Department, the significant increase in resources in the years that allowed for increased hiring, and recent developments in the wake of fiscal pressures.


As the City weathers more difficult fiscal times, limited resources could make the Police Department less effective. However, the Department can follow three strategies to protect public safety in a time of declining resources.

  1. Reschedule police officers’ workday to increase time in law enforcement and decrease time for changing uniforms. One way of improving productivity is to increase the availability of officers to perform their work. In NYPD jargon, an officer who works a tour of duty is making an “appearance.” Current collective bargaining agreements, which govern police officers’ schedules, reduce the availability of officers by limiting their number of appearances. Police officers work in shifts of 8 hours and 35 minutes. The 8 hours typically are spent in law enforcement, the 35 minutes overlap their colleagues’ shifts and are for briefings and changing clothes. Reducing the overlapping time to 15 minutes for briefings and making the changing time available for law enforcement would create the equivalent of 10 more working days for each officer without increasing the total time worked in a year. At current staff levels, ten additional appearances per year would be the equivalent of making available 1,083 additional officers. At current salary and fringe benefit rates, the Department could save $67.3 million annually by using this time to offset new hires.  
  2. Reassign police officers from jobs better done by civilians to law enforcement duties. When a police officer does a job that a civilian can perform, the cost is higher because civilians’ wages are less. Hiring civilians to fill positions needlessly held by uniformed officers, and shifting these uniformed officers into enforcement positions, called “civilianization,” would save money. Numerous reports during the last ten years have identified opportunities for civilianization at the NYPD, including the Department’s own 1990 study showing that 1,626 positions could be civilianized. Mayor Bloomberg’s 2003 adopted budget contained a plan to civilianize 800 positions, but the likelihood of the plan’s fulfillment appears slim. Efforts at civilianization often have failed because police leaders want to keep a substantial number of assignments with limited risk available to officers as a type of reward or as a temporary assignment. In addition, calls for civilianization are often loudest during times of financial distress, but political leaders have difficulty explaining to the public why more is being spent on civilians at the same time that less is being spent to hire police officers. Currently, more than 4,700 uniformed officers are assigned to non-enforcement positions. If onethird of these positions were civilianized, the Department could save $46 million annually. In addition the number of officers needed to maintain the City’s “operational strength,” a measure of law enforcement-related assignments, is smaller than the number of officers in that pool. About 2,300 officers may represent additional civilianization opportunities. If one-third of these positions were civilianized, the Department could save another $21 million annually.
  3. Stop using officers on overtime to perform duties that are predictable and could be scheduled in advance.  Rather than using overtime to staff only unforeseen needs, the Department relies on overtime for routine police work. In three major categories the Department could reduce overtime spending significantly. In fiscal year 2002, the NYPD spent $125 million on “events,” a category of overtime that includes providing security for parades, demonstrations, movie shoots and visiting dignitaries. Many of these events are known in advance, but are staffed using overtime. How can the Department more economically match its personnel with events needs? One way is to establish a “bank” of flexible hours in each uniformed officer’s schedule. If approximately ten tours per year were reserved for events, to be scheduled at the discretion of management, the Department would have sufficient flexibility to cover most events. To maintain uniformed staff levels in regular posts during events, additional officers would need to be hired. However, the salary and fringe benefits of newly hired officers would be offset by reduced overtime and associated fringe benefit costs, saving $64 million annually. “Special programs” consists largely of Operation Condor, an initiative that focuses on misdemeanor drug offenses and quality of life violations. Operation Condor and other special programs can and should be staffed by officers on straight time. Scheduling Condor officers on straight time would save $64 million in overtime wages plus $17 million in fringe benefit expenses. To cover for officers diverted to Condor assignments, the Department would need to hire about 996 officers. Salary and fringe benefits for these new officers would be $48 million, resulting in a net savings of $33 million. Police officers generated about $50 million in “new arrests” overtime in fiscal year 2002 because the processing of arrests made during their scheduled tour of duty extended beyond the end of that tour. Partly through new technologies introduced during the 1990s, the average time between arrest and complaint sworn fell from 14 hours in fiscal year 1995 to 7.5 hours in 1998. Since then it has risen from 8.2 in 1999 to 9.4 in 2002. The Department should redouble its efforts to reduce new arrests overtime through productivity-enhancing technologies. If the Department reduced new arrests overtime by one-third, it would save nearly $21 million