For five years, the NYPD told the City Council in quarterly reports that it had over time replaced hundreds of cops handling clerical duties with less expensive civilian employees.
But when city auditors asked for data to back up the figures, the department produced “three different datasets, none of which were consistent with the other,” according to City Comptroller Brad Lander’s first published audit, which was initiated by his predecessor.
“The NYPD was not able to provide supporting data for the progress it has reported,” the audit being released Friday found.
Uniformed cops have handled paperwork for decades, despite multiple legal rulings ordering the Police Department to replace those officers with non-uniformed staff known as police administrative aides.
An estimated 500 police officers are working full-time in clerical roles within the department, with many assigned to stationhouses across the city and in 1 Police Plaza, according to Ralph Palladino, recently retired second vice president of District Council 37’s Local 1549, which represents civilian administrative aides.
Palladino and other supporters of so-called civilianization say replacing the cops, whose relatively high salaries are ostensibly in line with the dangers they face, with clerical workers would save the city an estimated $30 million a year and free up more officers for street patrols.
The audit comes as Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain, has hailed the initiative to move to more civilian NYPD employees, giving a mayoral imprimatur to a decades-old effort.
“Here’s my problem with the NYPD,” he told reporters Wednesday. “You hired … a police officer to be on patrol to go after the bad guys — that was why you hired him. He should not be sitting in the license division. His dangerous day should not be a paper cut. He needs to be on patrol.”
The previous two mayors made little or no progress on moving desk jobs to civilians, an effort that dates back to at least the 1970s.
“If not now, it will probably never happen,” Palladino told THE CITY.
‘Like Pulling Teeth’
The potential benefits of moving uniformed jobs to civilians resonates with calls by police reformers to reduce the NYPD’s budget to fund additional social service programs.
The NYPD’s $5.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2022 remained largely intact despite an earlier promise by former Mayor Bill de Blasio to slash it by $1 billion. The proposed decrease had come in response to calls to defund the department after the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests. The cops wound up with just under $500 million in cuts and about $350 million in shifts of duties.
“[A cop] should not be sitting in the license division. His dangerous day should not be a paper cut. He needs to be on patrol.” – Mayor Eric Adams
Meanwhile police commissioners prefer to have as many uniformed officers, even in clerical positions, as possible, according to law enforcement insiders.
When former Mayor Michael Bloomberg met with DC 37 officials seeking the union’s endorsement for his second term, he joked that persuading then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to civilianize was “like pulling teeth.”
Police commanders prefer to boost the ranks of uniformed officers in case of an emergency inside a precinct or a sudden demand for cops, according to law enforcement experts.
Lander contends that makes no sense.
“Paying uniformed, armed police officers to perform administrative duties that could be handled by civilian employees wastes resources that could be better utilized to improve community safety for New Yorkers,” he said in a statement.
The new mayor has taken a position in support of change but he has not detailed where or how he plans to accomplish that.
Police who have cushy desk jobs are loath to go back on patrol, and many of the clerical gigs are given to officers who have some connection to top brass or who have spent multiple years on difficult beats, according to law enforcement experts.
“People want the city the way it has been run in the past,” Palladino said. “It gets very frustrating. People do what they want to do for friends and they don’t follow through on policy.
“But I don’t get that from Eric at all,” he added.
‘He Needs to Be on Patrol’
Before taking office, Adams looked to replace the mayor’s security detail of detectives with civilians, according to an WNBC report. Adams said he examined that switch as part of his broader plan to civilianize the department.
On the campaign trail in June, he told THE CITY that no post should be limited to uniformed officers.
“There’s no rule that states that you have to be a law enforcement person, you could be a civilian and be a police commissioner,” he said in June.
“So there are ways to change the paramilitary physical aspect of policing and civilianize and make it more humane in nature,” he added. “And that’s something that we should look into.”
As for the audit, it was completed last fall during former Comptroller Scott Stringer’s last days in office.
But audits are not published until the agency under review has a chance to respond to the findings.
The audit suggested the department keep better records to eliminate any similar confusion in the future.
In its response, the NYPD denied it failed to prove it civilianized 415 positions in fiscal years 2016 through 2019.
Police officials contend there is no need for change.
“NYPD has identified many responsibilities that could be shifted from police officers to civilian members of service and has continuously done so since 2015,” the department said in response to the audit’s suggestion for better record keeping.
Auditors sought a list of all the positions and salaries of all the posts the NYPD said it had civilianized but were not given one. They planned to use that information “to estimate the savings the NYPD had achieved” and could possibly gain in the future, according to the report.
The NYPD was “minimally responsive” and cited possible security concerns in handing over personnel data, the audit said.
“NYPD officials disregarded several of our requests for information,” the report said.
NYPD officials said some civilianization involved replacing multiple officers doing various duties, making the headcounts hard to tally. They also alleged that it is difficult to get an exact count based on personnel records because officers and civilians sometimes shift around posts during the year,.
The starting salary of police officers is $42,500 and rises to $85,292 after five and a half years. By contrast, police administrative aides start at $33,875 annually and do not receive a host of other benefits given to cops, like unlimited sick leave and a year-end pension bonus.
Orders to Act
In 2004, the union representing police administrative workers won what appeared at the time to be a huge arbitration decision directing the NYPD to replace all police officers on desk duty with civilian staff.
DC 37 attorney Audrey Browne back then said it was “the biggest victory we’ve ever won against the city.”
The decision was upheld in court in subsequent years, but the Police Department has been slow to act. DC 37 has also not pressed for some enforcement action.
A 2016 report by the city’s Independent Budget Office found that the NYPD was actually slightly increasing its uniformed headcount while reducing the number of civilians. “Progress along the civilianization front seems to have stalled,” the report said.
The initiative faces an uphill battle as long as NYPD fails to face reality, the audit concluded.
“Under present circumstances, we are concerned that the internal control weaknesses we found will persist and potentially hinder the NYPD’s progress in meeting its avowed civilianization objectives,” the report said.