Opinion 95 - 31


This opinion represents the views of the Office of the State Comptroller at the time it was rendered. The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.

PUBLIC OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES -- Compensation (entitlement of incoming police chief where prior chief declined salary increases)

POLICE AND POLICE PROTECTION -- Police Chief (compensation of incoming chief where prior chief declined salary increases)

GENERAL MUNICIPAL LAW, §207-m: The salary of an incoming police chief must be fixed at an amount at least equal to that which the prior chief would have received had he or she not declined to receive increases pursuant to General Municipal Law, §207-m.

This is in response to your letter concerning the starting salary of a newly-appointed city chief of police. You state that the previous chief declined to accept salary increases which would have been paid pursuant to General Municipal Law, §207-m. You ask whether the starting salary for the new chief must be fixed at an amount equal to that which the prior chief would have received had he not declined section 207-m increases, or whether it may be set at the amount actually paid to the previous chief.

General Municipal Law, §207-m states as follows:

Notwithstanding the provisions of any general, special or local law or administrative code to the contrary, and except in police departments which employ five hundred seventy-five or more permanent sworn police personnel, whenever the base salary of the permanent full-time police officer who is a member of a negotiating unit and who is the highest ranking subordinate to the head of the police department in such unit, is increased, the salary of the permanent full-time head of the police department shall be increased by at least the same dollar amount of the increase received by such next subordinate police officer. ... (emphasis added).

As previously noted by this Office, the purpose of section 207-m was to avert a perceived trend toward salary compression in the top ranks of police departments in the State (see, e.g., 1995 Opns St Comp No. 95-11, p 24).

It is apparent that section 207-m, by its express language, mandates that the salary of the chief of police be increased by at least the same dollar amount as the increase received by the next ranking permanent full-time subordinate police officer who is a member of the bargaining unit. The local government has no discretion in this matter (see Memorandum of the Association of Towns for L 1977, ch 827, enacting section 207-m, dated July 22, 1977). Otherwise, the local government could defeat the statutory purpose of avoiding salary compression.

Although section 207-m mandates salary increases, the police chief may decline to receive all or part of these increases (see 1991 Opns St Comp No. 91-39, p 115; see also 1991 Opns St Comp No. 91-21, p 67). However, it is our view that waiving the acceptance of salary is an individual decision of the chief and cannot overcome the minimum salary entitlement provided by section 207-m. Since section 207-m appears to be intended to assure that a minimum salary differential is maintained between the police chief position and highest ranking subordinate within the collective bargaining unit (1992 Opns St Comp No. 92-29, p 76), it is our opinion that a successor chief is entitled to a salary at least equal to that to which his or her predecessor was entitled (see id.; 1990 Atty Gen [Inf Opns] No. I 90-81).

Accordingly, it is our opinion that the salary of the incoming chief must be fixed at an amount at least equal to that which the prior chief would have received had he not declined to receive increases pursuant to General Municipal Law, §207-m.

May 24, 2000
Christina Lomolino, Esq., Corporation Counsel
City of Yonkers