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Big drop in cop applicants

September 21, 1998

With just five days to go until the filing deadline, only 2,500 applicants have signed up for January's NYPD qualifying exam. That's the lowest number in anyone's memory.

To place that number in perspective, consider that applications have never fallen below 20,000 for any exam in the past two decades. In 1993, no less than 50,000 people signed up after then-Commissioner Ray Kelly assigned 90 cops to the department's recruiting office to increase the number of minorities.

Even at the last exam, in May, 23,000 people applied, says Assistant Commissioner Denise Collins of the city's Department of Personnel.

Last week Police Commissioner Howard Safir issued an "urgent call" for "qualified New Yorkers" to take the exam. Safir did not mention that applications are one-tenth of what they were.

Nor would he offer an explanation. "Not to you," he said when asked the reason for the low turnout.

Former first deputy in New York and current Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Timoney said last week that major urban police departments, including Philadelphia's, were drawing fewer applicants, though none approached New York's low figure.

"Every major city is having trouble recruiting," he added. "The economy is good. Salary is also an issue. We do fine when we have 10-percent unemployment. But now there are a million high-tech jobs available. It's tough competition."

He added that both the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., police departments have visited Philadelphia to recruit. "I myself am looking to go to colleges and to military bases."

Capt. Evan Cohen of the Baltimore County Police Department, which also is experiencing declines in applicants, said he was recruiting in other cities and at a military base in North Carolina. He added that both his department and the Maryland State Police were recruiting here at John Jay College, which specializes in criminal justice.

Chicago Police Department spokesman Pat Camden offered a further reason: Many departments now require two years of college. Camden said applicants for the Chicago exam, which numbered 24,000 in 1993, fell to 12,000 in 1997 under the new requirement. This hardly explains the low number of applicants for the NYPD, which increased its educational standard in 1996 but still drew 23,000 applicants in May.

So here are some obvious reasons:

  • Salaries, frozen by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and lagging 50 percent behind suburban departments such as Nassau County.
  • Printable versionPoor leadership from the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, whose former law firm's partners were convicted of racketeering and whose executive board is under investigation for election fraud.
  • High-profile brutality cases such as those of Abner Louima in Brooklyn and Anthony Baez in the Bronx.

Collins suggests the low turnout may be merely seasonal. Filing began Aug. 25, she said, and the Labor Day holiday probably slowed the number. The Sept. 25 deadline, she adds, probably will be extended.

A Helping Hand. Here's PBA President Lou Matarazzo's statement on police Officer Joseph Locurto and his participation in the racist float in Broad Channel's Labor Day parade:

"The PBA condemns racism in any form . . . PBA lawyers will not defend police officers who actively participated in any way in this disgraceful incident. . ."

Matarazzo now maintains he meant the PBA won't defend cops on criminal charges. None was filed against Locurto. While the New York Civil Liberties Union is representing Locurto at his department trial, at which Safir is seeking to dismiss him, PBA spokesman Joe Mancini says that PBA lawyers are "helping out."

No Booze - Juice. Safir has assigned First Deputy Patrick Kelleher to check out the recommendations of a mayoral committee on guns and alcohol. It recommended off-duty cops not pack their guns when they go drinking.

The retirement parties for three chiefs are coming up. Kelleher (and others) have been known to hoist a few at past rackets. Does this mean Pat will leave his gun inside his desk? Or, perish the thought, will he sip lemon juice?

Louie and Charlie. This column erred when it reported Chief of Department Louis Anemone's name on the honorary committee list of Chief Charles Reuther's retirement dinner next month. Actually, the dark prince's name was conspicuously absent from the committee, which is headed by Safir and Kelleher and includes virtually all the department's two- and three-star chiefs.

Reuther maintains Anemone sabotaged his career, instigating Reuther's removal as chief of detectives. Meanwhile fliers announcing Reuther's racket, which were posted throughout One Police Plaza, vanished.

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Email Leonard Levitt at llevitt@nypdconfidential.com

© 1998 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.