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New York Police Recruiting Found Lacking

January 02, 2002  | 

NEW YORK -- New York City police recruits are failing out of academy classes and being disciplined for violating department rules at twice the rate they were four years ago, a city-appointed police oversight panel has found.

The findings, in a report released by the Commission to Combat Police Corruption, are a stark indictment of recent recruiting classes in a department that has struggled to find applicants and been criticized for relaxing some hiring standards.

The 49-page report, which was based on a statistical study of six police recruiting classes from 1997 to 2000, also found that the department had not thoroughly checked the backgrounds of some cadets before they joined the force. A handful of applicants were hired even though they were technically disqualified for police service because of such factors as bad driving records, the commission found.

In recent years, the department's recruiting campaigns, some of which have cost as much as $10 million, have largely fallen short of their goals. And the department has been criticized by the police union and other observers for bending its hiring rules to try to meet recruiting goals.

But criminal justice experts said that neither the department's problem nor its efforts to address it were unusual. Police officials across the country are facing shortages of qualified applicants to fill vacancies in their departments. So recruiters in many communities have begun reducing or eliminating previous requirements — city officials, for example, waived a $35 application fee last year — to make it easier to fill positions.

Some have warned that loosening long-held hiring rules may cause the quality of officers in the department to suffer, with new officers not held to as high a standard as their predecessors.

Although the commission declined to say that its report necessarily bolstered that view, it did note that its findings raised questions about the quality of some of the department's recent hires.

"What this says to us is that this is an area of concern," said Richard J. Davis, chairman of the commission, created six years ago by executive order to monitor the department's anticorruption and accountability efforts. "It's not just that we have the right number of officers, but the right kind of officers."

Through a spokesman, Patrick J. Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the union representing most of the city's 40,000 officers, said that he was not surprised by the commission's findings. Mr. Lynch has repeatedly questioned the department's easing of hiring rules and yesterday said he was concerned that such moves might "damage the quality of future members."

Department officials have defended their efforts to expand the force's pool of applicants, saying that such measures would not necessarily result in less qualified applicants.

"The commission recommends that the department closely monitor future classes to determine whether a negative trend is emerging, and if so, determine what necessary changes in its hiring criteria and background investigations would be appropriate," the commission wrote. The report recommended that the department fully investigate the background of recruits.

Although the commission was not charged with determining the reason for recruiting shortages, it noted that the starting salary for officers may play a role. For years, union officials have complained that city officers are paid far less — sometimes as much as a third less — than their counterparts in neighboring suburbs.

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