Organization Men

Lucas Miller is a detective with the NYPD. Andrew Shuman is a development manager at Microsoft. This week, Slate has asked them to compare the organizations they work for.    

We too have a rating system that runs from 1 to 5, with the tremendous majority of cops receiving somewhere between 3 and 4.5. A while ago the job began enforcing a curve, but as far as I can tell, the curve only runs from 3 to 4.5. Fives are not unheard of, but they require a separate written explanation from the supervisor doing the rating and we are somewhat written explanation-phobic. Lower evaluations than 3 tend to signal a cop who is headed for trouble, but more often than not, the trouble finds him before anyone gets around to writing his evaluation.

We also have other important numbers. There is the one that everyone knows about, which is our shield number. Other departments call shields badges. It’s a handy number for telling cops apart, except your shield number changes when you get promoted. My detective shield number is entirely different than my police officer shield number, which has presumably been reissued to someone since I was promoted. If I make sergeant at some point, new number. My shield number is useful if someone wants to make a civilian complaint about me, but because it changes over my career, it isn’t good for keeping track of me. Also, lieutenants and above don’t have numbers on their shields. A lieutenant with whom I use to work once got two civilian complaints, one for discourtesy and one for refusing to tell the woman who was complaining what his shield number was.

We also have tax identification numbers. These numbers are secret and given to us in a bizarre and dangerous ceremony conducted in a sweat lodge in a hidden cave below police headquarters. It is said that if a criminal learns our secret number, he steals our power. OK, not really. Tax ID numbers are issued by the city to use instead of social security number. I don’t know why. That number does stay with a cop for his career and most of the really important forms that you sign as a cop require both your shield and tax ID number. The tax ID was useful for telling how much time a cop had on the job, because they were pretty much issued in order from the first guy hired to the last guy. But then we merged with the Transit and Housing Police Departments and they got issued new numbers, so now you can’t tell seniority from it. Fascinating stuff.

Pay on our civil service scale is pretty commonly known. If I know how long a fellow detective is on the job and in rank, I can pretty easily tell how much he makes. That is of course adjusted by the amount of overtime he works. The overtime does sort of function as merit pay. The job does often come up with plans to reduce overtime, but it remains true that the more active a cop is, the more overtime he is bound to earn.

Detectives come in three grades. I am a third-grade detective, which is lowest. Second- and first-graders don’t necessarily do anything differently than I do, but they do earn more money. Good detective work and popularity with one’s bosses will get one promoted. Good political connections don’t hurt, either. In a way, this is a little similar to your hard-core code writers who never want to be managers. There are first-grade detectives in my office who work only homicides, who earn more than the lieutenant who commands our squad, and who wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the hierarchy.

Pay is a constant subject of conversation. There seems to be a general consensus that there ought to be more of it, but there is endless debate over the best pension strategy, what one should do in one’s last years to maximize one’s pension and whether one is going to leave after 20 years. Some pension money is available before 20, but unless one is leaving for a spectacularly profitable second career, it is wise to stay at least 20 years. The pension is the truly great benefit to the job. It is virtually guaranteed and it allows a cop to choose either a second career where making money isn’t that important as it was or one where the added pension money can make life much sweeter. I haven’t figured out what I will do in 10 years. Perhaps some sort of security work for a small Seattle software firm.

It does seem strange to me when I talk to people in the private sector who are responsible for their own retirement arrangements, but then I guess a healthy package of Microsoft stock options pretty much takes care of that.

Are your war meetings really called “war meetings”? There is a constant process that goes on here to make our jargon friendlier. Long ago we dropped the word “force,” as in police force, for the word “service.” When in uniform, I carry a baton rather than a nightstick.