The highest-paid Suffolk police officers could earn close to $200,000 annually by 2020 if the agreement between the county and the Police Benevolent Association is approved.
Over the term of the proposed contract announced earlier this month, the highest-paid officers would see their base pay rise 38 percent between the first half of 2013 and 2020. Officers would receive no raises in 2012.
When holiday pay, longevity pay, anticipated overtime pay and other forms of compensation are added to the new top base pay of $149,238, a veteran patrol officer could make somewhere between $195,186 and $201,902 by June 1, 2020, PBA president Noel DiGerolamo said.
Suffolk officials and the union say the contract will save the county money, pointing in particular to the longer time it will take new officers to reach the higher base pay amounts, that these new hires will have to pay a portion of their health insurance and that it will not have to distribute retroactive pay raises.
The pact, if approved, guarantees that Suffolk police officers will remain among the best paid in the country, said experts, and comes at a time when officials facing budget woes are trying to contain salaries and other municipal costs.
Jon M. Shane, an assistant professor in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College, said the deal's potential effect on taxpayer-funded pensions is cause for concern.
"At some point a police officer is going to retire and they are going to retire at 65 or 70 percent of their salary, and it's going to be 70 percent of a much, much higher salary," said Shane, who is a retired Newark Police Department captain. "They are exceptionally expensive to administer. You're going to pay police officers well. That's great. Whether they deserve it is a value judgment."
DiGerolamo said that members' reaction to the draft contract has been mixed so far.
"Some are happy, some think it's too long of a deal and they are concerned about the potential of inflation," he said. "Overall in the big picture, I believe it's a fair and equitable agreement that satisfies all the needs of both parties."
Top base pay of $149,238
Union and county officials do not know exactly how many people would be able to earn $200,000.
But DiGerolamo said any Suffolk officer who has more than eight years of service in 2020 would be eligible to earn the new top base pay of $149,238. About 95 percent of the police force makes the current top base pay of $108,068, said Vanessa Baird-Streeter, spokeswoman for County Executive Steve Bellone.
When longevity pay for being on the force for 15 years, holiday pay, an average of 225 hours of overtime annually, a uniform allowance and differential pay for either working a rotating shift or a midnight shift are added in, an officer would reach $195,186 and $201,902 levels.
DiGerolamo estimated that about 35 percent of the 1,700 PBA members now work rotating shifts and about 20 percent work midnight shifts.
Suffolk County and union officials say the tentative agreement saves the county money because it does not have to dole out retroactive pay raises, it freezes new officers' starting salaries at $42,000 and requires new officers to pay 15 percent of their health insurance premiums.
In addition, it will take longer for new officers to reach top pay.
The prior contract, which expired Dec. 31, 2010, had six automatic pay increases over the course of five years to get to top pay. The new contract would require officers to go through 25 steps over 12 years before reaching top salary, DiGerolamo said.
Legis. William J. Lindsay (D-Holbrook), presiding officer of the legislature, said Aug. 2 that the agreement is "how collective bargaining is supposed to work."
A fiscal analysis by the Suffolk's budget office and the legislature's Budget Review Office is under way, said Baird-Streeter and Robert Lipp, deputy director of the Suffolk County Legislature's Budget Review Office.
The findings will be presented to legislators before they officially vote on the contract, Lipp said. The legislature is expected to vote on the matter Sept. 13.
E.J. McMahon, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute's Empire Center for New York State Policy, criticized the county for making a 10-year commitment to something without first having had such an analysis.
"This thing is surrounded by questions," he said. "This is the biggest single expense in the county budget, they are looking to make a 10-year-commitment. How in the world can they justify this?"
Big bite of county budget
Police compensation accounts for about 21 percent of the county budget, Baird-Streeter said. The department's 2012 budget is $574.5 million.
New and existing officers would get a 1.5-percent twice-a-year increase from June 1, 2013, through June 1, 2015. Beginning Dec. 1, 2015, the increases will go up to 1.75 percent and continue at that level twice a year until the contract is up, said DiGerolamo.
New hires will not be eligible for the proposed $149,238 base pay, said Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider. For officers hired in 2013 and later, their top base pay would be $111,506, he said.
In New York City, NYPD officers reach the top base pay of $76,488 after 5 1/2 years on the force, according to the NYPD website. The median base pay for a police officer in the United States is $55,010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said the proposed contract keeps the county from getting any givebacks from the union for 10 years. The former contract had expired while Levy was in office.
"It is stale cake wrapped in a pretty box and a nice bow, and unfortunately, too many have bought the spin without seeing the details," he said in a statement.
Police officials praised some of the contract's provisions.
Chief of Department James Burke said he is pleased that the proposed contract requires officers to work two additional eight-hour training days in 2013, '14 and '15.
"It's a big win for us. It will enable us to do an educational reboot of the police department," Burke said. "Why? Because when you train cops they can't be out in the street . . . and oftentimes you'd have to hire overtime" to replace officers while they're in training.
Burke said he already has a curriculum in mind -- crime fighting techniques to enhance the department's intelligence-led policing initiative, training to expand cultural diversity and litigation liability.
Contract bars layoffs
The agreement guarantees that no police officer covered by the PBA would be laid off, which to Burke translates to better morale among the officers because they are guaranteed job security.
In addition, it states that all new officers who complete 120 college credits or obtain a bachelor's degree can add $1,500 annually to their base pay. If they don't meet the requirement by the time they are supposed to reach top pay, they have to give the county back $1,250 for each year they don't meet the requirement afterward.
"One of the county executive's hopes is that we want a better educated police force. That's going to produce real savings down the line," Baird-Streeter said.
The agreement also calls for Suffolk police to resume patrols of the Sunrise Highway and the Long Island Expressway within five days of ratification of the contract. The sheriffs department assumed responsibility for patrolling the highways in 2008.
Anthony Prudenti, president of the Suffolk County Deputy Sheriffs Police Benevolent Association, said the department already had a legally binding agreement with the county until 2017 to patrol those highways.
Bellone's administration said that agreement is not legally binding because it was not approved by the county legislature.