To go along with law enforcement using dum-dum bullets, the City of New York has enacted yet a new dum-dum policy. Since an incredibly ill-advised settlement in 2005, the starting yearly salary for police officers has been cut to $25,100. This is not a typo. The first two digits have not been reversed. The cut represents a return to the starting pay for cops in the year 1986. We knew the '80s were coming back eventually, but who knew it would be the salaries?
Forty percent pay cuts are normally reserved for faltering professional athletes looking to make a comeback and airline employees after a reorganization. The city is barely hospitable for citizens making around $40,000. At $25K, one can hardly afford the court costs for filing bankruptcy. Carl Pavano makes more per inning sitting on the DL. Michael Bloomberg's blind trust generates more in less time than it takes to play down talk of a presidential run. Bernie Kerik and Judy Regan used to drop more on dinner and a nightcap.
Bizarrely, the pay cut was part of an overall effort to recruit more police officers. And this move will put more cops on the street -- in cardboard boxes. Though City officials may be guilty of smoking the same crystal meth they have charged the police with removing from the streets, there is a hidden logic at work. As one theory goes, nothing will make the police more sensitive to the working poor than becoming one of them. Therefore, in addition to hand-to-hand combat, crowd control, conflict resolution, and hostage negotiation, police training will now include squatting, panhandling, and cashing food stamps. Their new motto will be "to protect and serve and scrounge."
There are other not-so-obvious benefits to a police salary so small it may not jeopardize their amateur status. The policy has effectively narrowed the income gap between regular and auxiliary cops, thereby leveling the playing field not only for professional versus aspiring peace officers but also for career versus up-and-coming criminals. In the life skills department, recruits will learn how to live off of credit cards, making NYPD Blue NYPD Red. And finally, nothing will steel inexperienced police recruits for long hours on the job quite like moonlighting on docks, warehouses, and 7-Elevens.
Fortunately, there are plenty of perks. The benefits package still includes suicide counseling and medical treatment for depression. Appropriately, broken window policing will now be carried out by broke civil servants. For ambitious young officers looking to make ends meet, paychecks can be fattened by cleaning up those very same broken windows. Officers inclined to tidying while on duty will find a little extra something in their pay envelopes come Christmastime. And for the many recruits facing possible eviction, it's reassuring to know squad cars are more plushly appointed than ever.
While the city is already facing a shortfall of almost 1,200 officers, who are we to ask a media mogul billionaire-turned-politician to apply simple supply-and-demand economics to recruitment efforts? This is a man who last year personally fired a City employee for having video solitaire on his PC, saving the City possibly minutes in lost productivity. Though critics say the new pay scale has helped with police recruitment the way roadside ambushes have drawn recent high school graduates to Iraq, there is cause for optimism. The NYPD will soon have its pick from a wide variety of petty thieves, spousal abusers, drug addicts, and schizophrenics, all of whom bring to the table special insight into the criminal mind.
As Michael Bloomberg brings his philosophy of governance to a national audience, there are still greater lessons to be learned. For instance, when trimming a municipal budget, always start with core services while leaving in place funding for botanical exhibits and tourist kiosks. Moreover, competitive starting salaries and recruitment bonuses may appear to attract quality candidates, but in reality they promote softness. What is needed is a kind of economic hazing, the theory being if you can make it through a year of poverty and homelessness, hanging out in a Dunkin' Donuts talking about treatment for your intestinal ulcer should be a relative breeze.
Coincidence or not, earlier this month the Drum Major Institute came out with a study that concluded a middle class existence in New York City required a yearly income of at least $135,000. Some say this paints a bleak picture of the city's future. On one hand you have a Tribeca studio apartment overlooking an air shaft fetching $1,250 a square foot. On the other hand you have brave young officers sworn to uphold the law raking in $371 a week on a waiting list for the air shaft.
And therein lies the solution. Luxury condos have both the means and incentive to hire and train their own police officers, who will receive superior salaries, exhibit fierce loyalty to their employers, and remain unhampered by nuisances like the Miranda Law. A new bold breed of privatized cop will roam the streets, as long as they are the specific streets paying their wages. Let the recruiting begin!
Rich Herschlag is the author of a new book, Before the Glory: 20 Baseball Heroes Talk About Growing Up and Turning Hard Times Into Home Runs (HCI, 2007). His other books include Lay Low and Don't Make the Big Mistake (Simon & Schuster, 1997) and Women Are From Manhattan, Men Are From Brooklyn (Black Maverick, 2002). He is also a columnist at Freezerbox.com.