New York, NY – While the police may be safe from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s budget cuts, other public safety workers like those in the city’s Department of Probation may not be so lucky, according to President Dalvanie Powell of the United Probation Officers Association [UPOA], who is fighting to save jobs.
“I am the president of the United Probation Officers Association (UPOA), representing more than 800 Supervising Probation Officers, Probation Officers, and Probation Officers Assistance,” Powell wrote to the mayor last week. “We ask like the other public safety personnel our members be exempt from any proposed work force reductions.”
Powell, a 33-year veteran within the DOP, spoke with LaborPress Wednesday and emphasized that between the city’s police reform program to not imprison individuals for low-level offenses, and its initiative to release low-level offenders from prison because of the COVID-19 threat — there is a need for more probation officers.
“Public safety comes first, but if we don’t have enough probation officers how does that work,” said Powell. “When I started the job in 1987, we had less cases as we have now, but there were about 1,500 probation officers.”
The DOP’s Director of Press and Communications Candace Sandy agreed that there has been an increase in cases to the agency.
“Given the reductions in jail population, probation officers are now supervising a population that is four times the number of people currently in jail,” said Sandy. “Officers are working hard to meet the needs of individuals on probation and their families.”
On April 21 2020, the Mayor’s Office announced that the jailed population in the city dropped below 4,000. It has, however, steadily increased since the outbreak of COVID-19.
“Shootings are going up, murders are going up,” said Powell. “Who is doing the intake in the investigations? The probation officers!”
The DOP clients that were formerly under the jurisdiction of the Department of Corrections are now under the purview of the DOP, according to Powell, but her workers are not being paid at a similar rate and have frequently been underpaid compared to other public safety workers.
“We are now doing Corrections work and we do not get paid like Corrections, nor do we have pensions like Corrections,” said Powell. “We are doing Corrections work without any additional compensation and we have the added people who were not in compliance who would otherwise be in custody, so that is an added feature to accommodate the community at large.”
Probation officers have been working throughout the pandemic, similar to other public safety workers throughout the city, according to Powell.
“We have been doing electronic monitoring and doing NeOn [Neighborhood Opportunity Network], which is community work,” said Powell. “We’ve been feeding people. We’ve been feeding somewhere between 5,000 to 10,000.”
Sandy concurred that probation officers have been leveraging technology to do remote reports, wellness checks, socially distanced fieldwork to keep people in probation in their communities safe and community work.
“Our Neighborhood Opportunity NetworkPo operate in communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic,” said Sandy. “Our teams are also continuing the increased distribution of food through our NeON Nutrition Kitchens in partnership with the Food Bank of NYC and the NYC Young Men’s Initiative. We have expanded hours and added a new location where those on probation and New Yorkers in need are provided one week of free pre-packaged groceries.”
To members of the UPOA, their work is not a job it is their career, according to Powell. Her members were required to have bachelors and master degrees, but they are not always paid like the professionals they are despite helping to save the city money.
“I have officers that work with the NYPD, DEA, FBI, the Marshals and all these different agencies,” said Powell. “Our specialized members are in the Intel Unit. We do cyber work too. We have a heck of a team.”
The average cost of an inmate in New York State is $167,731 per year.
It costs $5,000 to $10,000 annually to have an inmate monitored under probation, according to Powell. Despite the savings to the city, pay for probation workers has been low.
“Other law enforcement members like police, Corrections or FDNY reach their top salary in five to seven years,” said Powell. “We have no guaranteed amount of years when we reach out top salary. That doesn’t exist.”
Despite working in the profession since 1987, Powell makes more than $77,000. Her top salary should be around the $95,000 range for a supervisor. Employees of the DOP who have worked at the agency for five to seven years had a raise that was $57,000 from the mid-$40,000. However, their top salary should be around $76,000 for nearly a decades work, according to Powell.
“If it wasn’t for Raise the Age, there will be 16 to 17-year-olds that wouldn’t get another chance [in life] and they would be in adult court and locked up,” said Powell. “Instead a lot of them are with us. I’m not saying they are perfect, but they have another chance to get things right. That is why there should be an innovative way to fix this budget problem. We provide a service in public safety.”
The mayor’s alternative to lay offs includes pay cuts, a pay freeze and early retirement packages. A portion of the work force includes people who are 50-plus. They have nothing left to give in terms of salary, according to Powell. An early retirement package might be the way to go.
“Based on the typical eligibility of 55-years of age and 20 years of service: 26 percent of our probation officers and supervisors would be eligible for early retirement if it were to be offered,” said Sandy.
Before she even considers retirement for herself, Powell intends on doing the best she can to fix the pay structures at the DOP.
“I got to fix it [the pay structure] if that’s the last thing I do,” said Powell, especially for the workers who are too young to retire or decide to stay. “The workers that stay are going to have to pick up the slack for the ones that leave. They will have to go from 40 cases to 80, despite our work with the city to make the caseload workable.”