Detroit police overtime up 136% over 5 years

George Hunter
The Detroit News

Detroit police officials are trying to curb overtime costs that have exploded in recent years, although union officials insist if experienced officers keep leaving the department, those who are left will be forced to work extra hours.

The city paid $40 million in overtime for Detroit police officers during the 2017-18 fiscal year — a 136 percent increase over the $16.9 million paid in 2012-13, and more than $10 million above the $28.3 million in overtime accrued during the 2016-17 fiscal year.

“There are valid reasons why officers need to work overtime, but we need to better manage it,” Detroit police Chief James Craig said. “That simply means we have to justify when we’re deploying overtime details.”

Union officials say overtime costs will increase if the city doesn’t do more to retain officers.

“We have officers who are working 80-hour work weeks, and that’s dangerous because they get burned out,” said Mark Diaz, president of the Detroit Police Officers Association. Diaz said he’s losing about 18 officers per month.

The city has been hiring more officers — 23 recruits graduated from the police academy last week, the second graduating class this year — with more hires on the horizon.

Mayor Mike Duggan’s 2019 budget, approved last week by the City Council, calls for an $8 million increase to the Police Department budget to $321.7 million. Detroit spent 12.7 percent of its overall police budget on overtime in 2017.

By comparison, Chicago spent about 13 percent of its police budget on overtime last year and Los Angeles spent 7.6 percent of its police budget on overtime.

Detroit’s new budget allows for 141 new hires, which would bring the total number of budgeted positions of all ranks and civilian employees to 3,322.

“The department has done a good job hiring more officers, but we have a lot of guys near the end of their careers who are leaving as soon as they’re eligible because they want better retiree benefits. That’s leaving a bunch of inexperienced officers on the force,” Diaz said.

“Never in the history of this department have we been so young,” he said. “I’ve got 800 police officers with less than five years’ experience. That means rookies are learning from other rookies instead of more seasoned officers.

“All that will add up to more overtime costs, because it’s taking longer for investigations, and more officers are making rookie mistakes.”

According to Diaz, the department has about 1,600 active duty officers — down from more than 3,000 in 2000.

“I know the population has gone down, but the per-capita crime is about the same,” Diaz said. “We need enough officers to do the job so we’re not making our members work double shifts. That burnout factor is dangerous to the officers and citizens.”

Diaz said experienced officers leave Detroit’s police force because they’re able to get better retiree benefits if they retire from a suburban department.

Mark Young, president of the Lieutenants and Sergeant’s Association, said the department has lost 731 people over the past four years, many of whom left to seek better benefits.

“I’m all for managing the overtime costs, but the city needs to take whatever money is saved and put it back into restoring salaries and benefits for current and retired officers,” Young said. “Otherwise, you’re going to keep paying out overtime because keeping the city safe comes at a cost.”

In January, a directive was issued to officers in southwest Detroit’s 4th Precinct ordering shift commanders to clamp down on overtime — even if it meant deploying two cars under the minimum staffing levels.

“Effective immediately, all operations conducted on overtime shall cease,” said the memo, which advised the policy was in effect throughout the department until July 1.

Craig said the memo was the result of a commander misunderstanding his orders.

“There’s no way I would agree to going under the minimum staffing level,” Craig said.

Racking up overtime

Several officers have significantly enhanced their base pay by working overtime, according to department payroll data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

The city redacted the names and jobs of the officers on the list because some of them work undercover, so it’s unclear who worked where. But 19 people on the department’s payroll made more than 50 percent of their base pay in overtime.

One sergeant, who earned $66,574 in base salary last year, made an extra $92,562 in overtime. Another sergeant made $91,671 in overtime, in addition to his $70,383 regular salary.

Detroit police had 304 employees who earned more than $100,000 total during the 2017-18 fiscal year, according to the data, although 21 were captains or above whose base salaries were more than $100,000.

Craig said he’s not necessarily concerned about overtime paid to individual officers, although he said he wants to justify when overtime details are used, so his command staff now evaluates deployment needs weekly.

“We just want to make sure we’re not putting out overtime details for no specific reason, and that these details are working,” he said. “For instance, we ran overtime details last year when there was increased (crime) activity downtown. When we see problems start to emerge, that’s when we may run overtime details.”

Craig said another overtime detail was authorized to respond to speeders on Jefferson and drag racing.

“The illegal street racing became a regular weekend thing,” he said. “These are things you can’t ignore, but you can’t address them with your existing staffing because, if you do that, you’ll take away from your response units in the neighborhoods. So it’s a balancing act.”

Duty calls

Craig said some units naturally amass a lot of overtime because of the nature of their work.

“Homicide is where a lot of overtime is paid out,” he said. “But a lot of that is unavoidable. If a homicide detective’s shift ends at 5, and an investigation comes in at 4, there’s going to be some OT paid.”

Duggan spokesman John Roach said in an email: “The mayor is in alignment with the chief on this issue so his comments reflect the feelings of the mayor, as well.”

Craig said policy changes he made after he became chief in 2013 have added to overtime costs.

“We put in a minimum staffing requirement that wasn’t in place when I got here,” Craig said. “That’s the minimum number of units needed to achieve a certain response time. If you have officers who call in sick on a given day, we have to authorize OT to fill the holes.”

The minimum staffing requirements depend on a number of variables, including precinct, time of month and day of the week, Craig said.

“We analyze when the highest call loads are,” he said. “Weekends and Sundays are high, so we staff accordingly.”

Craig also instituted standby time, wherein officers are paid an hour of overtime for every eight hours they’re on standby.

“Before I got here, it was just understood that if you wanted to work in one of the high-profile units, you wouldn’t complain about not getting paid to be on standby,” Craig said, adding that officers on standby cannot drink alcohol and must be ready to begin active duty at a moment’s notice.

“I instituted standby pay because I know it’s the right thing to do, and I came from a city (Los Angeles) that got sued because they were in violation of the (Fair Labor Standards Act),” Craig said. “You can’t have people working for free.”

Young, the head of the Lieutenants and Sergeant’s Association, said overtime costs also went up when Craig rescinded former Mayor Dave Bing’s attempts to cut costs —12-hour shifts and “virtual precincts” in which precincts were closed from 4-8 p.m.

Craig also got rid of police districts, a model implemented in 2005 by former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, in which multiple precincts were combined to cut costs. Craig restored the 12 individual precincts.

“Opening up the precincts created the need for more cops, but I think it was one of the best things (Craig) has done,” Young said. “To man the precincts, it takes manpower.”

Craig said the current issues are not related to a 2014 internal affairs investigation into overtime abuse by Detroit homicide cops.

Among those disciplined or charged for overtime abuse was former captain Harold Rochon, who was charged with misconduct in office in September, after allegedly ordering subordinates to build a deck at his home during work hours, for which the officers were paid overtime. His trial is set to start in May.

(313) 222-2134

Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN