Top pay for Suffolk detectives in 2018: $227,000

This file photo shows the detective shield and This file photo shows the detective shield and patch of the Suffolk Police Department on Oct. 26, 2009 in Yaphank. Photo Credit: Newsday / Danielle Finkelstein

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A top-scale Suffolk County police detective's pay could reach more than $227,000 by 2018 based on the latest contract passed by the county legislature and County Executive Steve Bellone.

The eight-year Suffolk Detectives Association pact, approved unanimously by the legislature in December, covers 344 members and will allow some detectives to make as much as $227,998 when overtime, longevity pay and other compensation are factored in. Under the old contract -- and with all forms of compensation included -- a similar detective would have earned $176,074.09.

The contract comes as the county faces financial challenges.

Bellone last month ordered departments to not spend up to 10 percent of their budgets as a cost-saving measure. Suffolk ended 2013 with a preliminary deficit of $10 million to $13 million and it reported that it finished 2012 with a $155 million deficit.

In addition, officials have had to raise the police district tax, which is where much of the police revenue comes from. The tax increase will cost the average homeowner an additional $20 in property taxes.

County officials praised the detectives' contract, pointing to it being negotiated without needing to go to arbitration, along with requiring more steps for top pay to be reached and detectives to contribute toward their health insurance.

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"I think we have negotiated a fair contract that really has broken this cycle of ever-escalating salaries," said Suffolk County Deputy Executive Jon Schneider.

Law-enforcement and public policy analysts questioned the deal's cost.

"Nobody is really standing up for the taxpayer on this stuff," said E.J. McMahon, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute's Empire Center for New York State Policy. "This thing just slid right on through and nobody really noticed because it was inevitable anyway and last I heard, the county has got some serious problems and is facing a potential Moody's downgrade because of it."

The detectives union is the second police union to reach agreement with the Bellone administration. The Police Benevolent Association deal approved in October 2012 set up a dual-pay system in which officers at the top salary steps -- 85 percent of the force -- will see their base annual pay rise from $108,000 to $139,000, not including overtime, holiday pay and night differential.

That PBA contract would lower the starting salary for new recruits to $42,000 a year and increase the time required for officers to reach the maximum salary step to 12 years, from five years currently.

The Superior Officers Association has reached a tentative pact with the county, a source said. That agreement is slated to be discussed by the legislature's public safety committee on Feb. 27, the source said.

County officials praise certain cost-saving measures in the detectives deal:

Detectives now need 12 steps to reach top pay instead of the former four-step system.

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The lower starting salaries under the new PBA deal means that once that officer becomes a detective, his or her salary is indexed off that lower amount and translates to a savings, said Chief Deputy County Executive Dennis Cohen.

New detectives also must contribute to their health insurance, Schneider said, which would have been impossible had they gone through the arbitration process.

"They [arbitrators] give municipalities very little room to negotiate," Schneider said. "What we've done with these contracts and why they passed, why they are better for Suffolk County than what we've been doing to this point is that for the first time in our history we have negotiated contracts that make future law enforcement officers more affordable."

Calls to detectives association president William Plant were not returned.

A Suffolk Detectives Association document distributed to members after the deal was finalized shows a top paid detective is guaranteed to earn a base pay of $155,941.73 on June 1, 2018. A top-level detective earned $121,641 in base pay before the new contract was approved.

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The detective's pact contains no retroactive pay raises but provides a 1.5 percent increase in base pay for 2013 and a 3 percent increase in base pay in 2014. After that, detectives would receive a 3.25 percent raise in 2015 and 3.5 percent raises each in 2016, 2017 and 2018. Two productivity raises -- one in 2013 and one in 2015 -- and an education bonus are included in the base pay.

With night differential, holiday pay, a cleaning allowance, longevity pay for at least 20 years of service and 300 hours of overtime added in, a top paid detective could earn as much as $227,988 in total compensation in 2018. A detective, according to law-enforcement sources, averages about 300 hours of overtime a year.

About 82 percent of the officers who are members of the detectives union currently fall in the top step pay level, a December budget review analysis reported.

The analysis also pointed out that the detectives union will cost Suffolk an extra $47.8 million over the course of the deal and raise total compensation by $139,043 per top-scale detective over the life of the contract.

In comparison, the contract for the 5,517-member Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees, the largest collective bargaining unit in the county, represents a net increased cost of $50.5 million over the course of the deal and a $9,153 bump in compensation per employee.

The majority of police departments around the country do not have a separate contract just for detectives, said Jon M. Shane, an assistant professor in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College.

"Detective compensation is not as high around the country as you are finding in Suffolk County," Shane said.

Nationally, Suffolk County police detectives rank in the 90th percentile in terms of wages and salaries, according to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Nassau's current top base pay for detectives is frozen at $121,000, said Nassau County Police Department Detectives Association president Glenn T. Ciccone. Their union contract expires next year and wage increases have been frozen since 2011.

New York City police detectives are operating under a contract that expired two years ago, said Michael Palladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association. First-grade NYPD detectives, which are the highest-ranking detective, have a top base pay of $113,000.

The increase in compensation in the new Suffolk contract also will affect how much detectives will receive in termination pay when they decide to retire.

That pay -- the money owed for unused sick, personal and vacation time -- is known as SCAT -- Suffolk County Accrual Termination.

Under the new contract, if a detective banked the maximum amount of unused days allowed, he would receive $326,333.68 if he retired in 2018.

In 2012, according to a Budget Review Office report, 66 police employees who retired then received more than $200,000 in SCAT pay. The average termination pay among all detectives who retired in 2011-2012 was $101,236.

"That's one of the things they received through arbitration," Cohen said. "They weren't just going to give that up during negotiations."

SCAT payouts are unusual, Shane said. "That's completely outside the norm," Shane said. "Most police officers around the country are not leaving with that kind of money. They are not earning that kind of money either."

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