The Nassau County Police Department is bracing for a surge of retirements in 2015, when more than 10 percent of the police force is expected to leave.
About 250 officers will depart the 2,257-member police force next year, department officials said. An estimated 150 officers are likely to retire at this year's close. The department says it plans to ramp up hiring to keep up with the turnover.
"It looks like we're going to have a real spike," Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said. "We have a number of people starting to file early, a lot of people that are eligible to retire. We are preparing for a large retirement next year."
Krumpter said between 55 and 65 percent of the police force is eligible to retire, which doesn't include the department's 1,201 civilian employees. Police officers are eligible to retire after 20 years with an annual pension equaling 50 percent of their salary.
The projected increase is being generated by the millions in overtime pay officers have earned in recent years as the department has dealt with workforce reductions meant to close budget gaps, coupled with state pension rules dictating payments based on the three highest salary years, department officials said. Officers also were paid record overtime from working through events in 2012 such as superstorm Sandy and the presidential debate at Hofstra University.
Because the thinned force is at one of its lowest levels since the 1950s, police overtime is projected to hit an all-time high. County Comptroller George Maragos predicted the department will spend $67.4 million on overtime by the end of 2014.
Overtime spiked 26 percent in 2013 -- the largest increase in the previous four years -- when it cost taxpayers $63 million, compared with $49.9 million in 2012. The 2013 overtime increased 74 percent from 2009.
Police overtime also increased in Suffolk County. Overtime topped $28.7 million in Suffolk in 2012, according to department statistics. Last year, the department spent $30.5 million and estimates that figure will rise to $37 million this year. The department has budgeted $35 million for overtime in 2015.
In Suffolk County, 67 police officers have retired this year, with another three intending to do so, a Suffolk police spokesman said. Suffolk had 2,350 police officers as of October. Five officers have "advised of their intention to retire" in 2015, the spokesman said. In 2013, 64 officers retired, compared with 134 retirees in 2012.
Retirements not uncommon
Mass retirements also are a problem in other jurisdictions around the United States with reports indicating police in Tampa, Florida; Washington, D.C.; and St. Paul, Minnesota, are struggling with the same issue.
Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD sergeant and adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, said Nassau's predicament mirrors a national trend of municipalities decreasing police hiring during the economic slowdown. But now, with the economy rebounding, retirement-age officers who benefited from high overtime are exiting with large pensions and police departments -- some competing for the same candidates -- are left scrambling to fill the jobs.
For departments such as Nassau and Suffolk, he said, the departures could be a benefit, with experienced officers from the NYPD filling the ranks.
"You might see more mature rookies," Giacalone said.
James Carver, president of Nassau's Police Benevolent Association, said the loss of 400 officers through retirements -- about 20 percent of the force -- over two years is "something to be concerned about" because of all the experience that will be leaving the department.
Although the department is ramping up hiring now, Carver said it should have done so in the past few years, which would have prevented the rising overtime costs. Now, he said, new officers won't benefit from working side-by-side with veteran officers.
"You lose a lot of talent," Carver said. "Detectives, supervisors of special units -- that's years of talent, years of experience. It's tough to replace that without a steady transition."
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano said the department plans to hire about 500 officers by 2016 to tamp down overtime and fill the void left by retirements. The county's hiring of police officers had decreased dramatically in the years before a wage freeze was lifted in May, when the county financial control board and several unions, including the PBA, agreed on new contracts.
New cops, new wage scale
The county last year hired a class of 37 recruits, which was then the first class since September 2008.
It was prudent to wait to hire this new class because a new wage agreement, which offered a lower pay scale that takes more time to reach top salary, is now in place, Mangano said. The agreement gives taxpayers "significant savings," he said.
Mangano said based on the county's historic crime lows -- down about 10 percent compared with last year -- the appropriate number of sworn officers is 2,300.
He rejected concerns that mass retirements will prevent new officers from working with veterans.
"There's a significant amount of seasoned officers in patrol where these new officers will be working," said Mangano, a Republican. "Absent any man-made or natural disaster," overtime in 2014 "will be lower than '13 and '15 will be lower than in '14."
Despite Maragos' projections of increased overtime in 2014 due to officers' high salaries, Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said the actual hours of overtime have decreased. The county paid out 739,000 hours in police overtime through Oct. 31, 1.1 percent less than the 747,000 hours through the same time last year. Beginning in June, every month has resulted in fewer OT hours during the same time period the previous year, Nevin said.
State pension plan rules dictate that an employee's final average salary, which determines annual pension payments, is based on the average of the wages earned during any 36 consecutive months when earnings were highest.
Nassau police reported 134 retirements in 2013 -- 85 officers and 49 civilian employees. In 2012, 211 employees retired -- 138 officers and 73 civilians; in 2011 there were 123 retirements -- 43 officers and 80 civilians. And in 2010 there were 242 officers -- 148 officers and 94 civilians, according to department statistics. Among next year's retirees is Deputy Chief Edmund Horace, most recently assigned to support services, who will retire with 36 years on the force.
Shortly after the county wage freeze was lifted in May, a new class of about 130 recruits entered the police academy on a lower pay scale that will make them serve longer to reach top salary. That class, which graduated this month on a shortened academy schedule of six months instead of the usual seven, put 124 new officers on the street.
Another class, of about 67 recruits, is expected to graduate in May 2015. The department plans to hire 125 recruits in January and 100 in March, Krumpter said.
Contract eased the way
Carver said the push to retire next year is due, in part, to a move in 2008 that extended the police department contract from 2012 to 2015, which caused officers to "make plans and mentally prepare themselves" to retire next year.
He said the high overtime paid in the past few years has contributed to the turnover.
"It's not padding it, it's leaving at the best time," Carver said. "There was record overtime. I complained about it. But the county and the police department make a conscious decision to not hire, knowing they would be short and have to fill it with overtime."
Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), minority leader of the county legislature, said in addition to the pension costs, the county could be on the hook next year for some $30 million in termination pay -- funds covering accrued vacation and sick time paid to all county retirees.
Mangano said the county will issue bonds to pay the fees, which will top about $28 million this year. The $2 million bump next year is attributed to the increased police retirements, officials said.
"There's a catch to both sides of it," Abrahams said. "The downside is you lose a tremendous amount of experience all at the same time, but there's a financial ramification to keeping guys there longer. There's more time to accrue sick and vacation time."
Abrahams said his caucus has long pushed for the county to hire more cops and said the overtime costs aren't necessarily Krumpter's fault. He cited the department's contract with the PBA, which mandates minimum staffing levels, which he said "limits the commissioner's hands."