Top Cop Says He’ll. Use Overtime to Cure Mass Retirement
Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier yesterday told a City Council budget committee that he will use overtime to cure staffing problems that might be caused by a retirement program that will take effect this summer. The Commissioner denied that the impending loss of more than 200 experienced police officers would create a crisis in the 3,000 person department.
Frazier’s testimony was met with skepticism from the City Council members. Councilman Nicholas C. D’Adamo (D-lst), chairman of the Committee on Budget arid Appropriations, told the panel that the department had not filled 140 current positions, according to a report that Frazier had given the Mayor’s office.
As many as 500 are eligible to retire under the Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP), where experienced officers were given enhanced benefits if they agreed to stay for a period of 3 to 5 years after their first date for retirement eligibility. The first wave of DROP retirees is scheduled for June 30. Police Commissioner Thomas Frazier at yesterday’s City Council hearing said that nearly 70% of the retirees will come from street patrol.
Councilwoman Sheila Dixon (D-4th) asked Frazier about a report, circulated from numerous officers, that a call had gone out from police dispatchers for officers to work in the Western District, which was understaffed for an overnight shift. Frazier denied that such a call had taken place, saying that the report was a “rumor.” D’Adamo, who also had heard of the reports, chided Frazier: “These officers have no reason to lie.” Frazier did admit, however, that street-level staffing across the city was at less than 70%.
D’Adamo also faulted Frazier for having too many commanders and not enough troops in the field. “So much fat at the top, so short in manpower in the street,” he said. Frazier countered that when he was hired in 1994, there had been 53 high-level positions, but now there are 45.
Frazier adamantly refused to reduce the number of high level positions in the department. Instead, he proposes to lay off civilian employees. Frazier said that 110 civilian positions will be eliminated in the department, including positions within the 911 emergency support system and the Internal Investigations Division. He said that 75 officers would be redeployed from the street to administrative duties, and that staffing for specialized crime units would be reduced. The transfer of officers from street to administrative duties will effectively reverse a program, announced by Frazier with great fanfare, to move desk officers to the street. That program was accomplished through the efforts of an out- of-town consultant brought in by Frazier from his home town of San Jose, California.
Councilman Martin O’Malley (D- 3rd), a frequent critic of Frazier, noted that the fire department had over-hired by 113 positions, in anticipation of the DROP program.
Frazier and his staff told the committee that he did not have the money to over-hire. The Commissioner said that hiring in advance to offset the anticipated retirements would have cost the department $30 million.
Although 210 officers have signed up for the program, Frazier said he didn’t think that all of them would retire. Frazier said that officers in the field might find his overtime program “favorable.”
Frazier claimed that there were plenty of police recruits in the academy to resupply the force when it was determined how many would actually be needed. However, the police have only put a single class of 50 recruits into the academy in the last three months. The new officers will not be ready for duty until October, long after the high-crime summer months. When asked whether the class had been delayed because there had not been enough eligible minority applicants, Frazier responded in the negative. He cited the good economy for the lack of recruits.
O’Malley questioned whether the approximately 250 officers expected to retire in the DROP program were, in fact, being supplanted by 250 officers added to the force through federally funded COPS and Hot Spot programs, an allegation ardently denied by Frazier.
Last week, the City Auditor reported a number of inconsistencies in the police department’s hiring within the COPS program. The department paid five police officers with COPS money even though they were hired before the program began, and a half million dollars in expenditures had been overreported to the federal government. The auditor also reported that the police failed to hire 38 federally funded police officers.
Ilie police disputed the final audit finding, saying that 300 positions had been “civilianized” prior to the COPS program being implemented. In their response to the audit, the police claimed that the civilianization of jobs had masked the increase in the police force. At yesterday’s committee meeting, O’Malley questioned whether the civilianization had actually masked the reduction of the police force, stressing that if his fears were proved correct, there would be “grave budgetary repercussions.”
When confronted with testimony that the state and federal-funded “Hot Spot” program was being abused, Frazier replied, “this is the first I have heard of it.” Later in the day, Police spokesman Sgt. Scott Rowe admitted that officers had been taken off the program, which provides foot patrols in crime-saturated areas, but he claimed that the federally funded positions had not been touched.