Fewer Cops, and More of Them Behind Desks?

Posted by Bernard O’Brien, June 11, 2009

The number of police officers in the city is expected to soon reach its lowest level since 1990. But a declining number of officers may not be the only hurdle in the police department’s efforts to maintain patrol force—the number of cops on the beat.

A proposal in the Mayor’s Executive Budget calls for the New York Police Department (NYPD) to cut its civilian staffing by 1,055 positions in the coming year, including 395 layoffs. The planned cut would reduce the number of civilians by more than 6 percent, to 15,555. This has led to concern that an increasing number of police officers will need to spend time performing clerical and other support functions which do not require law enforcement expertise.

As of March 2009, before the impact of the latest round of cutbacks, the NYPD reported there were already 469 full duty police officers (personnel not restricted to “light duty”) assigned to administrative or other support functions. Recent testimony by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly reinforced the concern that the number of police officers needed to fill support functions may grow.

While the NYPD has applied for—and is widely expected to get—federal stimulus bill funding that would cover the cost of at least several hundred police officer positions, there’s no similar money flowing from Washington, as it did in the 1990s, for civilian police staffing.

The additional federally funded police officer positions could not come at a better time as far as the city budget is concerned. With the city’s fiscal difficulties slowing new hires, the size of the force has shrunk, as retiring officers are not replaced by the department. The police department first began receiving support for police officer salaries from Washington after passage of the 1994 federal crime bill, which included funding for a Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program. The recent federal stimulus bill provides a new round of COPS funding.

But the federal stimulus package does not provide for a new round of funding associated with a separate program from that same 1994 bill, which previously supported hundreds of NYPD civilian positions. That grant program, referred to as the COPS Making Officer Redeployment Effective initiative, or COPS-MORE, provided funds to localities seeking to hire civilian personnel so that police officers already on staff could be freed from desk duty and deployed in direct law enforcement roles.

The generally lower cost associated with civilian personnel as opposed to police officers meant that many local law enforcement agencies could stretch the federal support further to maximize the number of cops on the beat.

In 1997, the number of full-time civilian positions within the NYPD fully paid with non-city funds peaked at over 1,800. Nearly all of these positions were paid for with COPS-MORE funding or other federal monies received through the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant program. Both of those programs have phased-out and as of March 2009, there were only 25 NYPD civilian positions being paid for with either federal or state funds.