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Police Dept. spending on overtime soaring
By Andrea Estes, Globe Staff | November 19, 2004

The Boston Police Department has spent more than 70 percent of its $20.1 million annual overtime budget in the first four months of the fiscal year alone.

Big events, including the Red Sox post-season victories and the department's late summer anticrime campaign, Operation Neighborhood Shield, have run up large overtime tabs. But union and Police Department officials say a shrinking force in recent years has meant fewer officers available to work regular shifts, and lax management systems have contributed to spiraling overtime costs.

The department's overtime expenditures have run over budget in the past, watchdogs say. But the gap is so large this year that the department will have to find ways to cut costs in other areas and aggressively monitor overtime expenditures for the remaining eight months of the year.

''This is a wake-up call," said Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a business-funded government watchdog. ''There is a problem, and they now will have to manage spending more carefully. And the mayor should hold them accountable for doing so."

Tyler compiled the overtime figures at the Globe's request. He said the Fire Department has used 64.4 percent of its overtime budget, chalking up $5.5 million through Oct. 31 out of its $8.6 million budget.

The figures do not include overtime paid city workers during the Democratic National Convention, the most expensive security event in Boston's history. Those overtime costs, roughly $5.3 million for police and $1.5 million for firefighters, were covered by the federal government. But police spent millions before and after the four-day convention in July, as the city prepared for and absorbed the impact of an event that stretched its resources to the limit.

There were single weeks in which Boston's police officers racked up millions of dollars in overtime. During the first week of August, shortly after the convention's conclusion, the police department paid out $4.55 million in overtime, much of it to officers filling in for vacationing co-workers, police officials said.

During the last week of August, during the height of Operation Neighborhood Shield, officers were paid $1.8 million in overtime. The operation came as a wave of violent crime hit the city.

Police paid out $1.5 million to patrol Red Sox celebrations during the playoffs and the World Series. The city will receive $190,000 back from the team, officials said.

The city also spent about $150,000 for security at John F. Kerry's election night rally in Copley Square, officials said.

A huge piece of overtime spending was for court time: $2.1 million for 58,000 hours of overtime through Oct. 23. By union contract, officers who appear in court receive a minimum of four hours overtime.

''When there is more court time, there's a reason for it: Crime is up," said Boston Police Patrolmen's Association president Thomas J. Nee, adding that police officers aren't working overtime because they want to. ''Officers were ordered to work overtime nearly every weekend this summer, to the point of exhaustion."

Staffing levels are significantly lower than they were four years ago, he said, because tight city budgets triggered the cancellation of several recruit classes. ''We're down 300 plus; post 9/11, that's pretty dramatic. We have far less police officers than we did on Sept. 11, 2001."

Police officials said $2 million in reimbursements from state grants will offset some of the city's expense. They may also try to have the World Series declared a national security event and seek homeland security funds to cover some of the cost, according to police spokeswoman Beverly Ford.

She added that safety in the city would not be cut short as the department hunts for cost savings.

''We will not compromise security at the expense of a few dollars," she said. ''We will always make sure staffing levels are appropriate."

Still, officials said the department is already trying to tackle oversight problems that may have allowed overtime to get out of control in the past.

''This year we're dealing with exceptional events," said Christopher Fox, recently hired as chief of the Police Department's bureau of administration and technology. ''Whether it was the Red Sox playoffs or the fact that we had a presidential candidate from Massachusetts who chose to hold his celebration here.

''Those sort of events are beyond our control and hard to budget in advance. But there are others we can budget for. One of the reasons I'm here is that we are endeavoring to get firmer controls put in place so that overtime and some of the other financial issues are managed better. Before, we had in place controls that were simply too lax. We're endeavoring to try to get a handle on this and institute new controls.

''Of our 2,800 employees, no less than 2,500 received overtime," he said.

Fire Commissioner Paul Christian said he has implemented new cost-cutting measures, such as restrictions on sick leave and reductions in minimum staffing levels.

Even so, he said, his department will probably overspend its overtime account.

''Traditionally the budget office gives us a finite amount on the budget for overtime and we generally run over," Christian said. ''It's tough to pinpoint. I'm trying to emphasize what we're doing on the management side to keep overtime to a minimum."

The police and fire departments should make cost-saving moves departmentwide as they try to balance their budgets, Tyler said. If they still end up with deficits, the city would have to find money to fund the shortfalls.

Tyler predicted the Fire Department will end the year with a deficit and the Police Department, which usually ends the year with a surplus, may also end the year in the red.

''It's still a question mark as to whether the Police Department can manage its overtime so that its overall budget doesn't end with a deficit," Tyler said
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