Overtime in the Nassau County Police Department spiked by 26 percent in 2013 -- the largest increase in the past four years -- due largely to workforce level reductions meant to close county budget gaps, county and union officials said.
Nassau taxpayers spent $63 million in police overtime last year, up from $49.9 million in 2012, according to department figures.
Last year's overtime spending represented a 74 percent increase from 2009, the final year of Democratic County Executive Thomas Suozzi's administration, according to data from the county comptroller's office.
Nassau budgeted $45 million for police overtime in 2013. To cover the shortfall, Nassau will move funds from other parts of the police department budget where there are surpluses, First Deputy Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said. Krumpter said the spike in overtime was the result of a "reduced workforce" due to a wave of retiring officers who have not been replaced, along with $4 million in overtime some officers deferred from 2012.
But he said that, nonetheless, the department's total salary expenses are projected to decrease by $15 million from 2012, largely from the reduced workforce, state and federal grants and the deferred overtime.
"Taxpayers are saving $15 million annually in personnel costs and crime is down 10 percent from four years ago," said County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican who won re-election in November.
Eli Silverman, professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, said it is common for municipalities to increase overtime spending to compensate for reduced manpower. He said a more prudent route is to review factors that cause overtime to rise, including union rules and minimum manning rules specifying the number of precinct cars on specific shifts.
"Overtime is the fast and easy solution," Silverman said. "But, it's not necessarily the best or more cost-efficient approach."
Suffolk also to see OT rise
Suffolk County estimates it will spend $30 million in police overtime in 2013, compared with $28.8 million in 2012. The county budgeted $25.7 million for overtime in 2013. Suffolk police attributed the uptick in part to a new contract with county police that increased overtime rates.
In Nassau, the reduced police head count has come as Mangano has reduced the overall size of the county's workforce in an attempt to balance the county budget.
Nassau employs about 2,200 police officers, compared with a high of 4,000 in 1973 and more than 2,700 at the start of 2009, said James Carver, president of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association.
More than 100 cops left the county's workforce in 2013, he said, and Nassau now has its lowest police head count since the 1950s.
Carver said his members are getting called in to work overtime more than at any time in recent memory and that many officers are "burnt out" from the long hours.
"This is not going to stop until the county hires more officers," said Carver, who expects an exodus of 500 more officers with more than 30 years of service each in the next two to three years. "We have been in a crisis stage for more than year."
The county graduated 36 police recruits last month -- its first class of new officers since 2008. Mangano has said he will hire at least 150 new cops but wants to wait until a new labor deal is reached with the PBA that would require new officers to contribute to their health care and pensions.
The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state monitoring board in control of the county's finances, froze the wages of all county employees in 2011.
The proposed PBA labor deal would guarantee officers annual salary increases of nearly 2 percent through 2017, and $50 million in back wages that the county has withheld for three years during the wage freeze.
NIFA has yet to sign off on the deal although some board members have been outspoken against the payment of back wages. Board officials declined to comment on the status of the negotiations, and NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman did not respond to questions about the county's overtime figures.
In October, Krumpter told the GOP-led county legislature that once the 150 new officers are hired -- likely in the first quarter of 2014 -- overtime would come down. "You are going to see a material reductions in overtime once these cops hit the streets," he said.
Nassau sets $50M for 2014
Nassau has budgeted $50 million for police overtime in 2014. However, a report in October by the independent Office of Legislative Budget Review said "given the current overtime trends, achieving $50 million in the Police Department will prove to be difficult."
Even if Nassau brought on a new class of recruits immediately, it takes seven months for academy class officers to complete their training, limiting their ability to influence the 2014 overtime figures, Carver said.
Legislative Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said she was confident the overtime numbers will decline in 2014 as the county begins to hire new officers.
"The administration has proposed additional hirings, which should bring down the costs for 2014," Gonsalves said.
Legis. David Denenberg (D-Merrick), who has called for hearings into several police department issues, agreed that the lack of personnel is a driving factor in the overtime rise.
But he also cited the Mangano administration's consolidation of three police precincts last year, which led to the departure of roughly 100 police employees. Denenberg called it critical to hire more officers immediately to ensure public safety.
"It's inexcusable not to hire at this point," said Denenberg, the ranking Democrat on the legislature's Finance Committee. "We are spending more taxpayer dollars on less public safety."