Two out of three NYPD lieutenants have refused to sign up for the upcoming captains exam — because they say they can earn more money in their current rank without the added headaches that come with a promotion.
Only 537 of the department’s 1,753 lieutenants — or about 30 percent — have opted to take the April 24 test, sources said.
That figure stands in stark contrast to recent years, when 75 percent or more of all NYPD lieutenants would routinely file for the captains exam.
The test is the final civil-service exam that the NYPD offers and is the gateway for all further career advancement.
“It’s an indicator of where morale is in the middle level of the organization,” said Gene O’Donnell, a former NYPD cop who is now a professor of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“The middle level is not inclined to take a test to rise in the organization, and that’s an indicator that they plan not to make policing a career and will leave.”
Roy Richter, president of the NYPD Captains Endowment Association, whose union represents 738 superior officers, including the 408 captains, termed the news “very troubling.”
“The reality is, you want your lieutenants to study to become captains — they’ve already passed two civil-service exams and been promoted twice, so they’re motivated people,” Richter said.
But a growing number of lieutenants see little practical benefit in taking on the new job.
Once promoted, new captains are given commands of precincts where they face being raked over the coals by superiors at crime-stat, or Compstat, meetings for any crime spike that occurs on their watch, insiders said.
“It’s the least-appreciated rank in the NYPD. Whatever you do is never enough,” a longtime NYPD lieutenant said.
“As a captain, you’re at work at your command 24-7, and when you go to Compstat, they make you feel that you haven’t done a thing, that you haven’t accomplished anything.”
Most lieutenants also admit that they don’t want to become captains because of money.
Under a quirk in the NYPD civil-service salary structure, a veteran NYPD lieutenant — anyone with more than three years in rank — earns nearly $2,000 more than a new captain, sources said.
Those lieutenants earn $108,244, while entry-level captains earn $106,304.
In addition, any lieutenants — particularly those in specialized units such as the Detective or Narcotics bureaus — also still earn another $20,000 or more a year in cash overtime, insiders note.
NYPD captains, by comparison, can’t receive cash overtime, instead getting comp time.
Being a NYPD captain becomes more advantageous at the end of a second year of service when a captain’s salary jumps from $116,356 to $140,945.
But many lieutenants still feel they can equal or surpass those earnings by working overtime, raking in night-shift pay or getting “special assignment” money, which is awarded if they head a specialized unit.
The NYPD, however, notes that starting captains get paid more than beginning lieutenants.
“The next morning, everyone is feeling lazy; and who is going to get up and move the car?” he said. “If there is street cleaning on Friday where you live, almost 80 percent of the cars won’t be moved. They’ll all get ticketed.”
In the last decade, union officials said, at least 400 Bangladeshi immigrants have become traffic agents in New York, opening a new career path to those who traditionally find their way in this country from behind the wheel of a taxicab. City records put the number at slightly less than 200, but Police Department officials said they suspected the number to be higher because many employees do not list their birthplace.
Salaries start at $29,000 a year, but the insurance benefits and pension are generous. A college education and citizenship are not needed; one must be legally eligible to work in the United States and possess a high school diploma. Residency requirements are also slight.
Before becoming an agent, Sheikh Zaman was an airport security guard in New York, a job that did not have the stature of his occupation back home in Bangladesh, where he oversaw murder, rape and robbery investigations for the national police force. He assumed that his chances of securing a job with the New York Police Department were next to nil, but he could not help wondering why he saw so many of his countrymen wearing police uniforms, writing summonses.
“I saw a lot of Bengali people walking around the city, writing tickets,” he recalled recently. He asked how they got hired. “I was surprised,” he said. “They told me this was a very easy job to get.”
Mr. Zaman took a Civil Service test in 2008 and began his new career the next year.
“I love my job, I respect the job,” Mr. Zaman, 40, said. “Nobody likes getting tickets, but I enjoy the job. It gives me security. I’m happy.”
The proliferation of Bangladeshi traffic agents has a lot to do with word of mouth, much of it from Mr. Khan, a 53-year-old traffic agent and union official whose informal advice and encouragement to Bangladeshi immigrants turned into sit-down seminars, in which he helps applicants prepare for the Civil Service exam.
“I had thought having a uniform meant you were born in America; that was a misunderstanding,” recalled Mr. Khan, an energetic man who made a living as an itinerant magician in his native Bangladesh. “When I joined, I opened the door.”
At a recent seminar, one person in attendance, Md. Shamim Al Mamun, 33, said he had been in New York for only 16 days. Asked what he intended to pursue, Mr. Mamun said, “I’m interested in traffic enforcement.”
The work can be challenging. The agents sweat through the summer, shiver through the winter and bristle year-round at the insults shouted as they slip parking tickets under windshield wipers. The insults can be particularly unsettling to new immigrants only in the country for a few months.
“A lot of people say, ‘Go back to your country,’ ” said Jamil Sarwar, a parking enforcement officer for several years. “But I ignored them because I know I’m doing no wrong. I work for the city.”
Of the hundreds of Bangladeshi immigrants who became traffic agents over the years, about 100, including Mr. Sarwar, went on to be police officers, Mr. Khan said.
The influx initially caused some friction.
“Not only was there a language barrier, which is abating, but our Bangladeshi brothers and sisters were very standoffish at the beginning,” Mr. Cassar said. But over time, he added, they have become less insular and more willing to assimilate and adopt what he called “the traffic mentality.”
The tension also extended to Mr. Khan’s seminars. He said the Police Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau had investigated him a number of years ago and questioned him about the sudden surge of his countrymen into the department. Police officials would neither confirm nor deny that an inquiry had taken place.
Mr. Khan said the bureau also wanted to know if he was making income from his job seminars; he said that, in fact, he lost money for each one he held. “ ‘Come to my funeral’ — that is all I would ask of people,” he said.
There are more than 74,000 Bangladeshi immigrants in New York City, according to census figures. At one point, immigrants from Bangladesh were receiving more licenses to drive yellow cabs than any other immigrant group. (It was a somewhat strange affinity; many had never driven in their home country.)
In New York, law enforcement and cab driving have a complicated relationship. Taxi drivers are frequently robbed, and the police often come to their aid. But many taxi drivers resent receiving tickets over infractions that can easily wipe out a day’s pay and threaten their license.
These days, the draw toward the traffic enforcement jobs can be felt in the office of Shah Nawaz, an insurance broker, who specializes in accident policies for livery and yellow-cab drivers. His office, in the Bangladesh Plaza, an office building in Jackson Heights, is as important a port of call for cabbies as the restaurants along Lexington Avenue.
Mr. Nawaz recalled that a cabdriver client had recently scaled back to part-time driving because of a new job as a parking enforcement officer. Not long afterward, a 24-year-old livery driver, who had sat down across from his desk to discuss insurance premiums, acknowledged that he was considering a change in jobs.
“I drive a cab, but I think traffic enforcement is a better job,” the livery driver, Abdul Hafiz, said.
Mr. Nawaz’s bookkeeper, Mahmuda Haseen, is married to a traffic enforcement agent.
“It is a very prestigious job,” she chimed in, noting that her husband had sent photographs of himself in his blue police uniform to relatives back home.
Parking enforcement jobs, Mr. Nawaz said, had become “a source of pride for a new generation of Bangladeshis.”
He gestured to a framed photograph of his 14-year-old son, Sadman, and added: “He says, ‘I will be a police officer.’ I say, ‘It’s an honorable job working for the N.Y.P.D., why not?’ ”Continue reading the main story