The Real Cost of New Cops

New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio's unveiled his 78.5 billion dollar budget proposal this week. In it, one big ticket item: 1,300 new police officers. The hiring initiative is great politics but it is terrible policy.
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New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio's unveiled his 78.5 billion dollar budget proposal this week. In it, one big ticket item: 1,300 new police officers. The hiring initiative is great politics--at least insofar as it panders to a police union that has had the mayor hamstrung since the murder of two officers last year--but it is terribly policy. That's because in an age of declining crime, when the focus in America has finally shifted toward deincarceration, spending another six billion dollars on cops is morally and intellectually indefensible.

Though DeBlasio claims in his press release that the cost to taxpayers of these new officers is about 170 million dollars, this is a terrible fiscal slight of hand trick in which he conveniently limits his numbers to just the first year of employing these new civil servants, using their artificially deflated first year salaries, and ignoring the actual terms of their pay packages and union contracts.

Given that New York City Police officers are among the highest paid cops in America, it is worth doing the math: While a rookie officer in the New York City Police department earns $41,975 a year, when you factor in longevity pay, holiday pay and uniform allowance that number comes in at just under $45,000 a year. But using starting salaries as cost estimates--especially for cops--is wildly misleading. That's because police officer pay rises extremely rapidly: to over $90,000 annually after just five and a half years. And that figure doesn't include overtime, which regularly substantially swells police officer salaries. 37 year old Frank Galasso, for example recently added over $82,000 to his regular $112,574 salary. And he is not alone, in 2013, nearly two dozen cops added more than $50,000 in overtime to their already substantial salaries.

In part, the ability to earn overtime is a function of the generous leave packages enjoyed by New York's police officers: 27 Paid vacation days a year, unlimited sick leave with full pay and the additional dozen days a year that all public employees have off. Of course none of these calculations yet include the "fringe" costs of medical, dental, prescription drug and eyeglass insurance, the deferred compensation 401k, IRA contributions, the $12,000 per year "variable supplement fund" contributions, or the extremely generous police pension plan.

Police officers, many of whom join the academy at 19 or 20 years old, are eligible for retirement after only 20 years, and are able to draw substantial pensions for the rest of their lives. The police union conservatively estimates that a police officer will draw over 2.2 million dollars in retirement, which explains why in fiscal year 2016 alone, the city will contribute more than 2.5 billion dollars to the police pension fund.

But the most misleading part of the Mayor's cost estimates is that they ignore the longevity of police officers. The cops that Mayor DeBlasio will hire are cops that will become part of the police union and will be all but unfireable for the next 20 to 30 years. Leaving aside the costs of training these officers, arming them, getting them into patrol cars, and behind desks at station houses across the city, the salary costs of these officers alone will exceed 2.6 billion dollars. And even assuming the cost of health care doesn't rise dramatically, fringe benefits for those officers will top 1.1 billion dollars, with pension contributions adding another 1.4 billion dollars. All in, the mayor's political pandering to the police unions will cost the taxpayers of New York City over six billion dollars--money that could go to educating the poor, housing the homeless, or maybe just maybe fixing our broken criminal justice system, and rehabilitating those we are currently crushing in it. If we were to do that, perhaps we'd no longer need the thirteen hundred cops mayor Deblasio is about to hire.

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