Overtime spending has dropped about 30 percent this year in the Nassau County Police Department, after reaching a record $72 million in 2016.
Following years of budget-busting annual overtime totals, the department has begun to make strides: In the first two months of this year, the number of overtime hours totaled 75,153 departmentwide, down from 107,650 hours in the same period last year, a 30.19 percent drop, department statistics show.
Department brass have implemented overtime-cutting measures, including a temporary shift of about 44 officers from the police academy and specialty units to the patrol force and a departmentwide requirement that supervisors document and justify overtime.
“We’re going to make sure every minute of overtime that’s paid is appropriate,” said acting Nassau Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter.
The Suffolk County Police Department exceeded its overtime budget by $14.3 million last year, spending $47 million. Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini has said he wants to decrease overtime hours or keep them flat this year.
Nassau police officials have long struggled to abide with union work rules, which can drive up overtime, while keeping costs in check as the force has shrunk by some 500 officers in the last decade.
With 70 officers who have retired or indicated that they would in the first quarter of this year, the department is estimating more than 200 cops could leave the force by the close of 2017. There were 67 retirements in 2016 and 198 retirements in 2015, according to department statistics.
Because of budget constraints, the department last year pushed back the hiring of 150 recruits to May.
Union chief: Temporary fix
James McDermott, president of the Police Benevolent Association, called the overtime changes that moved cops from the police academy to patrol commands “a temporary fix.”
Union rules require the officers to shift back to their original posts in 90 days, McDermott said, and little thought was given to the preferences of individual officers, who in some cases were transferred to patrol assignments in unfamiliar precincts.
“They had them abandon ship,” said McDermott. “The academy doesn’t shut down” because there’s not a recruit class. “There’s still in-service training. It’s put so much on the skeleton staff that’s left there.”
Putting academy instructors temporarily on the street is good for training, Krumpter said.
“It keeps them current on policing,” he said. “They’re left to ensure that they train our new recruits, so they get to get back and get refreshed on patrol and not be so far removed from patrol.”
Krumpter conceded, “I’m sure they would prefer not to be sent back to patrol.” The commissioner said he explained the moves to academy staff. “It did disrupt their daily lives, but they are professionals and they took it very well.”
Last year, the department exceeded its overtime budget by $14.8 million, bringing the total spent that year to $71.8 million, according to the county comptroller’s office.
Comptroller George Maragos last year released a critical audit on police overtime — showing that overtime from 2009 to 2014 totaled $315.2 million, 44 percent higher than the $218.9 million budgeted. Maragos said he was “delighted” that Krumpter had taken steps to cut the spending.
“The fact that they have now implemented better management and more accountability that we called for is confirmation that our report was accurate, the numbers were accurate,” Maragos said. “Last year he said, ‘There was no issue with overtime, everything was justified.’ [Krumpter said] I didn’t know what I was talking about.”
Krumpter: Audit had no role
Krumpter said Maragos’ audit recommendations had no bearing on the department’s reforms. Maragos, who is running as a Democrat, announced his candidacy for county executive last year.
“When he issued his report, I stated from the beginning that he had an agenda and his agenda became very clear: He wants to be the county executive so he’s looking for issues,” Krumpter said. “I’ve always been a proponent of aggressively managing overtime and for Comptroller Maragos or anyone else to suggest otherwise, they’re either misinformed or disingenuous.”
Despite the overtime, the department ended 2016 with a $10 million net surplus, which both Krumpter and Maragos agree is accurate.
This year, overtime is down across all of the department’s six divisions. The bulk of overtime is in patrol, where 42,214 hours were paid in January and February, in contrast to 66,082 in the same months in 2016, a 36.12 percent decrease, according to department statistics. Overtime dropped in each month — 21.79 percent in January and 38.28 percent in February.
The new overtime initiatives are designed to increase accountability, Krumpter said. They include a change to the hours of the Selective Enforcement Team, a four-person group in Highway Patrol tasked with drunken driving enforcement. The department determined the bulk of DWI arrests occurred between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m., so it changed the team’s working hours to 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. Previously, the shift began at 7 p.m. and ended at 5 a.m.
Moving base saves $40G
The team also was relocated to department headquarters in Mineola, where its arrests were processed, saving hours members were paid to drive back to their command in Bellmore to retrieve their cars to go home.
“That simple step of moving them to headquarters, ends up saving up to $40,000 in overtime a year,” Krumpter said.
Front-line supervisors play an outsize role in keeping overtime down. They have a new mandate to write a report for review by their commanding officer explaining how they “attempted to mitigate any overtime” when an incident results in more than two hours of overtime, Krumpter said. Supervisors also have been told to keep arrest overtime down.
Asked if that system will simply bog down sergeants and lieutenants with more paperwork and create overtime, Krumpter said: “No paperwork is authorized for overtime. Absolutely not. Period.”
The commanding officers are required to report overtime on a weekly basis, and report that information to division chiefs, who share it with the commissioner.
Krumpter said detectives have been instructed to be in “constant communication” with the district attorney’s office “to ensure that we minimize the amount of overtime incurred in court,” which accounts for a “significant” level.