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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Police overtime prompts damning report

George Maragos, Nassau’s comptroller, released a damning report Tuesday slamming the county’s police department for out-of-control overtime costs.

But here’s the thing. Since Maragos, a Republican-turned-Democrat, also is running for county executive, his report must be viewed through a political lens. Which means that until Maragos and his opponents for county executive specify what they might do differently to resolve the decades-old overtime mess, the comptroller’s report might best be put aside.

So, let’s go to another source on the same subject: the legislature’s independent office of budget review. Better yet, let’s add one more: Suffolk County, which also is grappling with ways to keep police overtime under control — even as the county, like Nassau, seeks ways to deal with budget deficits.

Just last month, Nassau’s office of legislative budget review, in an analysis of County Executive Edward Mangano’s proposed 2017 budget, noted escalating police OT. “Many steps have been taken to curb police overtime deficits to no avail,” according to its report. “Yet the proposed budgets do not reflect current realities.”

Nassau consistently underestimates police OT costs. This year alone, the department is projected to exceed its projected $57 million OT costs by $12 million — although unexpected savings in other areas will keep its budget on track, acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said Wednesday.

In 2011, the last complete fiscal year before superstorm Sandy, the department spent $43.8 million in overtime when there were 2,373 sworn officers in the department. Police overtime skyrocketed with the storm, which boosted the department’s OT costs to $64.7 million in 2012 — $14.8 million of which was tied to police work during and after the storm.

The next year, overtime might have been predicted to fall, but didn’t. “As time has revealed, that level of spending has become the new normal,” said the budget review report, which noted that the department attributed that growth to having fewer officers.

In Suffolk, the cost of police OT has been growing, too, but mostly because of increases in police salaries. Timothy Sini, Suffolk’s police commissioner, said the department aggressively manages OT through a variety of measures — from reducing the time officers spend on paperwork to monitoring OT reports to weed out potential abusers, Sini said.

Most of Suffolk’s overtime costs come from the department’s assigning officers to cover shortages. That could include putting an officer on overtime on patrol to replace an officer assigned to other duty, Sini said. “Our first priority always is public safety,” he said, “and our priority, too, is manage our funding.”

Krumpter said the department monitors OT aggressively, too, and that it is investigating potential abuse. Krumpter acknowledged, however, that it “has been years” since the department forwarded such a case to Nassau’s district attorney’s office.

But Krumpter said there’s also one major difference between Suffolk and Nassau: the “minimum-manning” requirement the county agreed to with its police unions years ago. “Suffolk has the freedom to assign, I don’t,” he said. “Because of the contract, I have to have the same number of cars on the street at 2:30 a.m. on a Tuesday as I have to have at 11:30 p.m. on a Friday.”

That requirement, he said, accounts for the bulk of OT. And managing overtime is expected to be even more difficult in 2017, he said, because of budget cuts and a delay in bringing on new police hires.

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