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City cuts police overtime costs

August 14, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

Hagerstown Police Department employees earned more than $600,000 in overtime pay in the latest fiscal year, but that was still $200,000 less than in the previous year, according to City Finance Department records.

After paying a record $800,212 in police overtime in fiscal 1998, city officials said they would work to cut costs.

In the latest fiscal year, which ended June 30, police department employees earned $602,712 in overtime - roughly $5,529 for each of the 109 eligible officers.

"I'm really happy to know a big dent was made (in overtime spending) because it was out of control," said City Councilman J. Wallace McClure.

"I am pleased with the reduction because it proves that it's manageable," said Councilman Alfred W. Boyer.

While city officials said they are pleased overtime expenses have been reduced, most council members said they believe more cuts can be made.

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Council members Lewis C. Metzner, William M. Breichner and Boyer said overtime spending on roll call - about $100,000 a year - needs to be addressed.

Under the terms of the police union contract, officers come into work for a 15-minute briefing session called roll call before each shift begins.

Police Capt. Robert Hart said each officer makes an additional $900 to $1,000 a year in overtime from roll call.

Boyer said the city should try to remove that provision from the next police labor contract. The current contract is set to expire June 30, 2000.

Metzner said there should be a way to work roll call into a normal eight-hour shift.

"I've always thought roll call could be dealt with," Metzner said.

"It's something I think we should try to get rid of," Breichner said.

But some city officials see the overtime associated with roll call as a necessary and unavoidable expense.

"In a 24-hour day with three shifts that are eight hours each ... if you try to do it as part of their normal shift there wouldn't be anyone out on the road (at) the beginning of each shift," McClure said. "It's a critical time for communication. ... People need to understand that's just the way it works."

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said that when he worked as a corrections officer he received the same 15-minute roll call overtime pay on each shift.

"I think we're pretty much stuck with it," Bruchey said.

Officer Wayne Hose, president of the police officers' union, said that while the officers would listen to any proposals from the city, he doesn't see how the expense can be lowered.

"You couldn't do away with it," Hose said. "It's just a necessary evil. It's something that has to be done so the information can be exchanged."

In Frederick, Md., city police have roll call, and it is not considered overtime. However, Frederick police officers have two hours of overtime built into their weekly schedules since they work four shifts of 10 1/2 hours each.

The Maryland State Police and Washington County Sheriff's Department do not have roll calls.

Deputies and troopers, who are permitted to take their patrol cars home, call their headquarters once on the road for their shift. They do not report to headquarters at the beginning of each shift. Communications between the shifts and the relaying of information to field officers is left to shift supervisors.

Capt. Hart, who has been acting chief of police since former Chief Dale J. Jones resigned May 23, said several changes have saved the department "a few bucks here and there."

He said shift supervisors have become more conscious of overtime. For example, in some cases they wait to dispatch an officer to a nonemergency call for 10 or 15 minutes until the next shift comes on.

Also, the department had seven more officers on the street than in the previous year, which meant less overtime spending to cover staff shortages, Hart said.

In addition to roll call, time spent on investigations and in court accounted for a substantial amount of the overtime cost.

Major crimes, such as murders, assaults and burglaries, dropped 7.7 percent in Hagerstown from 1997 to 1998, according to City Police Department statistics.

Hart said that while the number of more serious crimes may be declining, that doesn't mean all crime is going down.

For example, Hart said that when comparing July 1999 to July 1998, total criminal arrests were up 7 percent and drug-related arrests increased 18.5 percent.

About $134,000 of the overtime earned was attributed to time spent in court.

Because court dates are the result of arrests, court time is seen as an unavoidable drain on staff time that affects all area police agencies.

"Court time is not an overtime issue. It's a cost of doing business," said Hagerstown Detective Carroll Braun.

The Frederick Police Department, which has 133 full-time employees, spent $133,600 on police officers' overtime as a result of court appearances during fiscal 1999.

At the Washington County Sheriff's Department, supervisors try to schedule deputies to work day shift on the days they are scheduled to go to court, thus avoiding paying some overtime.

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