About a thousand officers with the New York City Police Department demonstrated this week outside the home of the state arbitrator who led negotiations with the city to give police a pay raise of just 1 percent over the next two years. Police unions say officers around the country need more money to get by — and with police-community relations under scrutiny nationwide, some reform advocates say better pay is crucial to rebuilding frayed trust.
The officers with the 24,000-strong Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA) were protesting on Thursday against what they call a meager raise, with the union’s boss, Pat Lynch, using language reminiscent of Occupy Wall Street to rally his members.
“This arbitrator says those lives are only worth 1 percent while he’s a 1 percenter living in a penthouse,” The New York Post quoted Lynch as telling the officers as they demonstrated.
Police union officials say officers need better pay to live. Law enforcement reform advocates say history shows that paying officers poorly can lead to more of them attempting to boost their incomes with bribes, or competing with criminals for dirty money.
“Poorly paid cops translate to bad police-community relations,” said De Lacy Davis, a retired veteran of the Orange County New Jersey Police Department and head of National Coalition of Law Enforcement Officers for Justice Reform and Accountability, a community policing activist group comprised of current and former officers.
For police reform advocates, properly paid police are an important part of improving relations between communities, politicians and law enforcement. That relationship has drawn renewed national attention — and come under unprecedented strain — in the last year, following the widely publicized shootings of several unarmed people, many of them black.
Corrupt police officers in some cities have robbed drug dealers and even ordered hits on criminals, Davis said, adding that such abuse of power also erodes trust between officers and citizens. Police aren’t as likely to be fair and just when they’re scrambling with criminal gangs for the same dirty money, he said.
Joe Giacalone, a criminology professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former NYPD officer, agreed with Davis, saying good pay is crucial to keeping officers honest.
“There are so many temptations out there” for officers working a beat, Giacalone said. A cash-strapped officer might take a bribe from a criminal instead of making an arrest, he said.
“They’re everyday people we get from society that have problems, financial or health problems. They need money,” Giacalone said of police officers.
“And when they’re put in this position, morally and ethically, they could be seduced. If you want to avoid corruption, then you have to pay the cops a living wage,” he said. “Because on $40,000 a year you can’t live in the city you work for.”
First-year New York City police officers earn $42,000 annually, and pay caps out at $76,000 after five years, according to the police union. The union says that doesn’t go far in one of the world’s most expensive cities.
New York state law prohibits public employees from striking, so officers there have only their union and the Public Employee Relations Board to bargain with the city. However, some police union members in the city have suggested going on a work "slowdown" to protest the proposal, the Daily News reported.
For several weeks last winter, NYPD officers allegedly went on a slowdown to protest what they saw as unfair treatment by Mayor Bill de Blasio and the city, feeling de Blasio had unfairly implied that some of them are racist. Ticketing and arrests plummeted until NYPD brass started cracking down on the apparent malingering.
As for what role good pay has in stopping corruption, a PBA spokesman said he found the question offensive.
"You pay police officers more than a living wage because of what they give to society, not to deter them from corruption,” PBA spokesman Joseph Mancini told Al Jazeera. “It’s an insulting question to police officers in the 21st century."