The city spent so much money on police overtime last year that it could have hired 30 full-time officers with benefits for the same price.
Overtime increased dramatically, leaping 20 percent above the previous year’s total even after raises were taken into consideration. The department spent $3 million, which was $1.1 million more than budgeted.
City officials are still somewhat at a loss to explain how the overtime increased so much last year, but they released the total number of hours used in an effort to demonstrate where the money was spent.
Officers were sent out on 7,170 extra shifts last year — enough to force every officer to work one overtime shift a week all year.
The department used 16,000 more overtime hours than in 2007, which had previously held the record. In total last year, police worked 57,300 hours of overtime.
Part of that could be attributed to the department’s increased discipline. Six officers spent most of the year on paid suspension, five awaiting the result of a state investigation. Three are still suspended and may be terminated when disciplinary hearings begin. They were joined by another officer in October.
To replace all of their patrol shifts, the city had to pay other officers for an additional 11,643 hours.
The city’s seven vacancies also needed to be filled with 13,000 hours of overtime.
But in the past, the city has had as many as 16 vacancies and used far less overtime. In 2000, the city spent one-third as much on overtime as in 2008 yet had 15 vacancies. In 2006, the city had 16 vacancies and spent $2.4 million.
Police Department officials were disappointed with the increase, given that they had taken a number of steps to reduce overtime. Among many inventive measures, they gave the district attorney’s office every officer’s schedule so that fewer court dates would be scheduled on the officers’ time off, which results in overtime. In many cases, they found, officers who worked from 4 p.m. to midnight were asked to come to court at 2 p.m. Those dates were easily pushed back to 4 p.m., Assistant Chief Michael Seber said.
The department rescheduled its SWAT raids, detective work and other special patrols, planning them at times when most officers were scheduled to work so that little overtime was needed.
But the city also increased overtime for its evidence technicians to combat last year’s spike in burglaries, Seber said. Not only are those technicians responding to more scenes, but they’re using new technology to gather far more evidence — which takes more time.
“We take more DNA than ever because DNA is way better than fingerprints,” Seber said.
Seber is now closely studying last year’s overtime, which he tracked through a system he created.
The system breaks overtime down to specific codes, allowing him to see precisely how much of the overtime came from last-minute arrests versus full patrol shifts needed to fill vacancies.
“This is something I created because I wanted to watch to see where the money was going,” he said.
So far, he hasn’t found a simple answer.
“It’s all over the place,” he said.
He has not yet completed the 2008 analysis but said the city could not simply spend its entire overtime budget on new officers and eliminate the need for future overtime.
“A reasonable amount of overtime is to be expected,” he said, citing three major reasons: injuries, homicides and court appearances.