"Overtime has been an issue every year and every year, we're told if we hire these additional people that we should be seeing decreases in overtime or more control over it. The raw figures look like the exact opposite is taking place," Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said during a work session last Tuesday.
Metzner was responding to a list of police personnel detailing how much each employee received in overtime for an 18-month period that ended Dec. 31, 1997.
The list had been requested by The Herald-Mail on Jan. 26 through the Freedom of Information Act after city officials said this fiscal year's overtime budget was almost exhausted halfway through the year.
According to the list, 64 police officers and dispatchers made more than $5,000 in overtime from July 1, 1996, to June 30, 1997. Most of them are police officers, but also making that much were three dispatchers.
Twelve police officers made more than $10,000 in overtime during the year.
In the current budget year, which began July 1, 1997, 34 police officers and dispatchers are on pace to make more than $10,000 in overtime pay, according to city finance records.
One sergeant is on track to make more in total wages than Police Chief Dale Jones's $66,165 salary this fiscal year because of overtime.
Now that the mayor and council have been given the raw data requested by The Herald-Mail, they will receive a detailed presentation on Feb. 17 explaining why overtime is so costly, Metzner said in a later interview.
"I would have liked to have had somebody come in and give an update six months into the year on overtime," Metzner said.
DRUG WAR DEMANDS OVERTIME
Last month, Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II went to Annapolis to ask state officials for $400,000 in additional overtime funds to help combat the city's drug problem.
Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend has said she will try to find state and federal funds to offset overtime costs.
Bruchey said a significant portion of the overtime is a temporary problem until nine future officers graduate from the police academy.
The council had approved hiring seven more officers to form a crime team that would hit the streets this fall and focus on fighting the drug war.
Because police launched a crime team on Jan. 27 before those officers are available, the department is shorthanded in some areas, officials said.
"Until that time, we can't just give up protecting the streets," Bruchey said. "I'm not going to risk the safety of my citizens because of some money."
The mayor's right, said Councilman Alfred W. Boyer. The city needs to be exercising zero tolerance, especially with drug dealers, he said.
"I'm proud of the police department and what they're doing. I really hope we can close this door and make Hagerstown a safe place to be without anybody getting hurt," Boyer said.
MORE OFFICERS VERSUS OVERTIME
Council members said they understand there are factors they might not be aware of that cause some overtime.
But looking at the overtime budget, some council members said there must be a way to reduce overtime or keep it from growing by either hiring more officers or restructuring the department.
"There's enough demand to warrant very close scrutiny," said Councilman J. Wallace McClure.
During last Tuesday's council meeting, Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein said the overtime issue is a "challenge."
In a later interview, Saum-Wicklein said she didn't have adequate information to talk conscientiously about the overtime numbers.
The increasing overtime costs are not the officers' fault, Metzner said. They deserve support, not criticism for working more hours for city residents, he said.
Metzner said restructuring the department might reduce some overtime.
Of the department's 93 police officers, about seven to 10 are not involved in active patrol and investigation duties, Jones said.
While overtime is a fact of life, an extra officer might cut down on some of it, said Councilman William M. Breichner.
Jones said hiring more officers won't necessarily reduce overtime costs.
Often overtime occurs in patches of time here and there, Jones said. It would be difficult for additional officers to cover that time without having floating shifts, he said.