The New York City Police Department prides itself as being one of the top law enforcement agencies in the world. And who could deny that in fighting crime, the NYPD has proven to be highly successful with overall crime dropping over 70% during the last 15 years? Without a doubt NYC is one of the safest big cities in America.
But take a tour of local NYC precincts and you may just find yourself traveling back in time to the 1950's. We are not referring to the buildings that house the precincts since many of those go back prior to the 1950's. However, after an examination of the technology in the precincts you will quickly determine that it is closer to 1957 than 2007.
It has been proven that technology can help both in crime prevention and the apprehension of criminals. However, the NYC drop in crime could be even more dramatic if the city and NYPD brass would provide local precincts with basic 21st century technology.
The average New Yorker would be shocked to learn that their household contains more advanced technology than their local police precinct. In fact, chances are their school age children have better access to hi-tech equipment than the average NYC police officer.
For instance, let's examine the 104th precinct in Ridgewood, Queens. It covers just over 7 square miles and includes the communities of Glendale, Maspeth, Middle Village and Ridgewood. About 3 years ago the precinct received an upgrade to their telecommunications system. However, after the $100,000 upgrade, it was discovered that the new system did not include the software for voice mail, call forwarding, call waiting, or any other advancement made in the last 50 years. As a result, precinct offices in general that relied on answering machines bought their own with staff contributing out-of-pocket for the purchases. Still, most of the precinct offices don't have any answering device whatsoever.
It gets even worse. Almost every child over the age of 10 has access to e-mail. Unfortunately, no such technology exists in the 104th precinct. E-mail did make a brief appearance a few years ago in the precinct but their connection has been down for over a year cutting off all digital communications with the outside world. The 104th is on a long list of precincts waiting to be wired for e-mail.
As for computers, most households have the latest PC's and software. Unfortunately, like most NYC precincts, the 104th precinct has several outdated computers. For instance, to log roll calls, NYC precincts still utilize a computer from the early 1980's that employs a 5-inch floppy disk. That technology has been obsolete for at least 15 years. About 8 years ago the Juniper Park Civic Association convinced a couple of neighborhood savings banks to donate their outdated PC's to the precinct. Some precinct offices are still using those computers today.
At first glance you may observe many detectives using laptops for their important investigations. However, if you approach them you quickly learn that they purchased the computers with their own money and even had to buy the software.
And what about cell phones you say? Only the commanding officer and the executive officer get NYPD issued cell phones. The rest of the officers use their own cell phones for the job and pay their own phone bills.
Recruiting the Best and the Brightest?
Knowing this, why would anyone want to become a NYC police officer? The starting pay for an officer with an associate's degree from a college is $25,100. There is also little incentive for officers to rise through the ranks. For instance, an NYPD lieutenant applying for captain should think twice about getting a promotion. Reaching captain would cost him/her 9 vacation days per year and thousands of dollars in overtime pay. Captain ranks do not get overtime pay.
Applying for sergeant will only net you $400 extra pay per year along with the greater workload and responsibility. As a result of these and other promotion penalties, applications for promotion are at an all-time low in the NYPD.
Bloomberg's Campaign Promise
In late summer during the 2001 mayoral race, a candidate made a campaign stop on Queens Boulevard. I asked then candidate Michael R. Bloomberg about the woeful lack of technology in the 104th Precinct. Bloomberg replied that he was aware of the lack of technology in the city's police precincts and said that it would be immediately addressed and corrected under a Bloomberg administration. We must give our officers the best technology we can to fight crime, said Bloomberg.
His plan to give cops the pay they deserve never materialized. His other plans such as outfitting cops with Blackberry-style handheld computers, handheld bar code scanners to scan driver's licenses, and getting free tuition for cops at City University are also on the back burner. Bloomberg did try a deferred retirement incentive to keep experienced cops on the job beyond 20 years, but it didn't work. The vast majority of cops still retire after 20 years. And with what we uncovered, who can blame them.
As far as technology, almost 6 years later, little has changed in the average city police precinct, and nothing has changed in the 104th precinct.
In recruiting qualified applicants and keeping experienced officers, the mayor has a long way to go.