Why Police Officers Are Leaving: Low Pay, Overwork and High Costs
Good morning. It’s Wednesday. We’ll look at why police officers are leaving New York in significant numbers.
Credit…Brittainy Newman for The New York Times
Police resignations or retirements are a concern across the country, but nowhere more so than in New York. The New York Police Department has seen more resignations by officers in 2022 than at any time in the last 20 years, and many officers are working longer hours to make up for staffing shortages. I asked my colleague Chelsia Rose Marcius, who covers the police and criminal justice in New York, to explain what’s behind the departures.
Why are officers leaving the N.Y.P.D.? If you signed on to be an officer here, why go somewhere else?
For starters, police departments across the country have reported significant staffing shortages. Part of the reason, according to some police chiefs I interviewed, is that younger people just do not want to be cops. Departments are therefore stepping up their recruiting efforts and searching for candidates well beyond their borders.
In Aurora, Colo., Dan Oates, the chief of police there, had about 50 positions to fill earlier this year. He told me that to find candidates, he traveled to New York City to talk with N.Y.P.D. officers he hoped to recruit. He painted an appealing portrait of Aurora, a city of about 400,000 that’s just east of Denver and close to the ski slopes.
Then Oates talked about money. The starting salary at the Aurora Police Department is around $65,000 a year, and incoming officers with four or more years on the job can earn about $100,000 a year.
He also pointed out how much farther dollars go there than in New York City, where the median sales price for a home is $810,000 and the average monthly rent is about $4,500. The average monthly rent in that corner of Colorado is approximately $1,750. The average home sale price is about $624,000.
Officers in Aurora also receive incentives if they transfer from other departments, including a signing bonus of up to $10,000 and a $5,000 relocation bonus.
But back to your questions. While the reasons behind N.Y.P.D. departures are usually complicated, individual and difficult to measure, one metric we can definitively point to is pay. New officers make $42,500 a year, and around $85,000 after five and a half years — far less than what they can earn in Aurora and other smaller cities in their first few years on the job. Even if officers signed up for the N.Y.P.D. expecting to spend their entire careers here, higher pay might be enough to lure them elsewhere.
But is money the only reason the N.Y.P.D. is vulnerable to this kind of poaching?
Not at all. And let me just note here that outside agencies like the Port Authority police or police departments in the New York suburbs have long tried to recruit from the city, partly because of the training N.Y.P.D. officers receive.
But there appears to be a seismic shift in these efforts due to staffing shortages elsewhere. Oates saw how Lakeland Police Department in Fla. successfully recruited about a dozen N.Y.P.D. officers last year, and decided to try the same strategy.
Low morale among the N.Y.P.D. rank and file was another reason Oates and his team homed in on New York City.
Why morale is low is complicated and varies from cop to cop. But one thing to consider is the workload. In October, Mayor Eric Adams announced that patrolling the subway system would require 10,000 hours of additional overtime every day. That has many precinct patrol officers staying on the clock well past their regular shifts. Longer hours lead to less time with family and friends, and a greater chance of burnout.
Who else has put out the word about hiring officers from New York?
One of the most unusual ways I heard about came from Spero Georgedakis, a former Miami police officer who now owns a moving and storage company in Florida.
He works with the Florida Police Benevolent Association to help officers move to the Sunshine State, and, like Oates, he heard about N.Y.P.D. officers looking to relocate. So he made a television commercial promoting his company. The ad is aimed at cops who need to find a mover. Then he bought time on stations in New York City. It costs Georgedakis a whopping $20,000 a month to run.
How many officers have left the N.Y.P.D. this year?
The total number of officers who have left the department this year through November, including retirees, is about 3,200. That’s the highest overall number since November 2002. It’s probably worth noting that many of those retiring were brought in during a hiring spree after Sept. 11, 2001, when thousands of cops retired or quit.
The statistic that really grabbed my attention is 1,225, the number of officers who resigned before reaching five years of service. That is also the largest such departure since at least 2002, and it shows younger officers are quitting before they are even eligible for any pension benefits.
What will the N.Y.P.D. do if staffing shortages become more acute?
How the N.Y.P.D. will handle a deeper staffing shortage remains uncertain. But more officers working more overtime will only worsen morale, according to the leaders in law enforcement I interviewed. Right now, stopping the departures seems key, and the N.Y.P.D. has intensified recruiting efforts, particularly on social media, and will likely continue to do so.
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Every week since 1976, Metropolitan Diary has published stories by, and for, New Yorkers. Now we’re asking for your help picking the best Diary entry of the year. The voting closes on Monday at midnight.
One afternoon in the late 1990s, I was on a downtown train headed to a job interview. I was wearing the requisite black pantsuit and carrying a briefcase.
I stood in front of one set of doors and, using the opposite set as a mirror, evaluated whether to tuck in my shirt or leave it untucked.
A man sitting next to my makeshift mirror watched as I considered my options. He looked to be in his late 20s, like me, had a diner cup of coffee in his hand and was wearing dirty clothes and boots that suggested a job in construction.
With a twinkle in his eye, he gave a thumbs-up to the tucked-in option, nodded and smiled. No one else on the car noticed, and he got off at the next stop.
I don’t remember if I got the job, but I do remember his approving smile.
— Lara Cohen
Illustrated by Agnes Lee. Send submissions here and read more Metropolitan Diary here.
Glad we could get together here. See you tomorrow. — J.B.
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Melissa Guerrero and Ed Shanahan contributed to New York Today. You can reach the team [email protected]