Nassau police detectives are turning in their gold shields and returning to patrol because there is little financial incentive for them to continue working long hours under high-stress conditions, police and union officials testified Tuesday.
Seven detectives returned their shields in the past year and another request is pending from a detective to drop back to police officer status, Nassau Detectives Association President John Wighaus told the county legislature’s public safety committee at a hearing into the county’s growing detective shortage.
Nassau has 309 detectives, short of the 360 budgeted, Wighaus said.
He predicted retirements over the next few months would reduce the number of detectives to fewer than 300 — as detectives deal with 2,400 identified gang members; investigate 1,700 persons reported missing every year; battle illegal opioids; and probe financial fraud cases against the elderly that have increased by 47 percent this year.
By comparison, 20 years ago the county had 460 police detectives, and a decade ago there were 425, said Wighaus.
He cited a growing lack of interest among police officers in becoming detectives.
“A designation once thought of as a pinnacle of a police career is now a pariah to most officers in Nassau County,” Wighaus said.
He said a common refrain is, “it’s just not worth it. Being a detective is so much responsibility. It is a 24-hour-a day job and there’s no financial incentive to take on this additional work and stress.”
Said police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, “You take on more responsibility, more work and we’re going to give you less money.”
Wighaus and Ryder said past union contracts resulted in pay steps that essentially drop detective earnings below police officer salaries for a period of years.
Wighaus said newly designated detectives must remain in the Police Benevolent Association’s negotiated salary step plan until they’ve completed it, and then go through a separate detective step plan.
A 2016 memorandum of agreement says detectives will get no salary step increases until they’ve completed the 75-month detective step program.
“It doesn’t make any sense, to go through steps for five years to get back to where I was,” Ryder said.
Neither Wighaus nor Ryder gave salary figures. But a report this year by the legislature’s office of budget review showed average detective earnings in 2018, including overtime, were $153,705, compared with $187,503 in 2013.
The administration of County Executive Laura Curran has said detective pay will be addressed in contract negotiations that are underway. All county union contracts expired at the end of 2017.
Ryder said he could approve more overtime to help alleviate the detective shortage, but said most detectives already are overworked.
“Paying overtime doesn’t give you better service. When your staffing level is down, you’ve got to deal with what you’ve got … You’re pulling from the same pool,” he said.