Police overtime costs have exceeded the annual budget allotment by an average of $107,000 for the past eight years and it’s not certain that hiring an additional patrol officer will help reduce that cost, according to department officials.
Monday night, members of the Town Council and officials from the debated, at times heatedly, why the overtime line item in the police budget is so high and whether it is worth creating position if it may not reduce the spending.
Rocky Hill Police Lt. Brian Klett told council members that said that since 2004 the department has gone over its allotted budget by more than $861,000 primarily due to overtime costs. Already this year, from March 19, 2012 to April 15, 2012 the department had 12 vacant shifts for various reasons. To cover the 156 hours during that time, officers worked overtime for a total cost of $5,187, Klett said. If the already existing vacancies, there are two patrol positions open, had been filled the overtime cost for that month would have been $798, Klett said.
Police Chief Michael Custer said that an additional officer might not “significantly” reduce the amount of necessary overtime it would help make scheduling easier and minimize the problem.
“We are forecasting,” Custer told council members.
Custer said officers are getting tired from taking double shifts that could compromise public safety. Deputy Mayor Timothy Moriarty said if the officers work too much overtime it could lead to morale issues, with the officer becoming burnt out.
Klett said he’s able to manage against vacations and sick time; it’s the retirements, maternity leaves and long-term injuries that are harder to manage and create the larger amounts of overtime.
At the moment, seven officers are eligible for retirement in the next couple of years and at least one officer has filed for the paperwork, his last day would be in December 2013.
It takes from six months to one year to prepare an officer for the road; if an officer has been to the police academy, it reduces the amount of time needed for initial training. A starting patrol officer is paid an annual salary of about $60,000 and with benefits would cost the town between $80,000-$85,000 a year, according to Town Manager Barbara Gilbert.
Councilor Nadine Bell said she supports the addition of the officer in the interest of public safety “first and foremost.”
“In the absence of a crystal ball, this presentation has squarely shown that the addition of an officer will most likely show a reduction in overtime,” she said.
Councilor Barbara Surwilo had a different opinion. Surwilo said she is against adding another patrol officer, but supports filling the two current vacancies. She asked that the council look at numbers from each year and figure out what caused the overtime costs. Surwilo said in the past, the additional of officers have not reduced the cost of overtime in the department.
“It’s not dollar for dollar,” Surwilo said, adding that she has dealt with police issues in the past as mayor and a councilor. “If you give us another patrol officer, you will save this amount of money. And it never comes true.”
She added that population of the town does not play a factor in the increase of overtime at the police department.
“Mathematically the population has very little to do with staffing,” Surwilo said. “The big problem here is the unpredictability of patrol officers having vacations and sick time that’s the issue that underlies this. It is not the population.”
Councilor Larry deBear said he “was confused” by Surwilo’s statements and said a higher population in town creates more calls for service. He said that he respectfully disagrees with Surwilo.
“If anyone says an increase in population of the type we have had in Rocky Hill is not going to increase the number calls that a police department has then you don’t know what you are talking about,” deBear, who was visibly upset, said.
Councilor Joe Kochanek said that there are currently two patrol officers working in the IT department and on accreditation, meaning that they are not on the road most days. Custer said that with enough notice the officers are put into the patrol rotation. However, Custer said that work assigned to them is not be getting done because both men have busy schedules.
Kochanek asked how many officers are needed to fill the 63 shifts per week. Custer and Klett did not have an answer for him at this time. Gilbert added that the department is currently lower than any of the surrounding towns and is often working with minimum staffing, which is three officers per shift.
In the end, no action was taken and the council will discuss whether to include the additional officer at its budget workshops later this and next month.