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EDITORIAL: Schenectady must get a grip on police overtime

EDITORIAL: Schenectady must get a grip on police overtime

Taxpayers can't afford to pay individual officers so much
EDITORIAL: Schenectady must get a grip on police overtime
Schenectady police cars.
Photographer: Gazette File Photo

There’s probably no salary a government body could pay that would adequately compensate a police officer for the job they do.

But government bodies have financial restraints that force them to set a number lower than what any officer deserves.

A city like Schenectady, even with recent progress, is still struggling financially. With such high taxes, so many services that need to be provided and so many needs going unmet, it simply can’t afford to be paying any individual the kind of money that some officers are getting through overtime.

One officer’s annual pay topped $205,000, according to a report published Thursday. That’s $5,000 more than the governor made last year.

To make that much money, the officer collected his annual salary of $82,417, plus over $114,000 in overtime. Another officer made nearly $200,000, racking up over $112,600 in overtime on top of his $85,000 annual salary. Three other officers also earned over $160,000 in salary and overtime.

That means city taxpayers — whose average median salary is about $43,100 and whose property taxes are among the highest in the state — are paying almost $900,000 a year in salaries for just five officers.

We realize that lot of police overtime can’t be avoided. The police department only has a finite number of officers to fill all the shifts, and the city has to pay overtime when one of those officers gets sick, goes on vacation, when extra staffing levels are required to deal with a particular situation, or when a vacancy arises.

But certainly the solution isn’t having officers work extra-long hours for extended periods and simply paying them for their time. While that makes the job easier for administrators than hiring and managing more employees, it might not be in the best long-term interests of the officers or the city.

Is it really good for the morale and physical condition of individual officers to work so many hours and spend so many hours away from their families and free time? And is it really in the best interests of individual officers, and the public, to have officers working so many extra hours, factoring in fatigue and burnout?

Could the city get better use for the taxpayers’ dollars by hiring more officers and spending less on overtime? Chief Eric Clifford said he hasn’t performed a cost-benefit study to determine the cost of hiring more full-time staff vs. continuing to pay overtime costs. Given these latest overtime figures, maybe it’s time he did one.

Police administrators also need to continue to crack down on abuses of sick time and other factors that contribute to unexpected absences, in order to reduce the need for officers to take so much overtime.

And city officials, including Mayor Gary McCarty and members of the City Council, need to treat the overtime issue with more urgency.

The taxpayers of Schenectady have proven they’re willing to pay for a strong police force. But they can only afford to pay so much, particular to individual officers.

City officials need to get a handle on this.

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