Nassau police overtime pay increased 13 percent in the first six months of 2013 compared with the same period last year, according to the county comptroller's office.
Police Commissioner Thomas V. Dale and other police officials say the increase is a result of a voluntary buyout, attrition and a recent internal restructuring that has left the department down about 200 officers from where officials wanted it to be when they began implementing a precinct consolidation plan last year.
Officials say the overtime situation should improve soon because 30 officers have been hired and there are plans to hire 80 more.
"We've done everything to monitor overtime," Dale said. "We've cut it down to the bone. The only way to try to get relief is to try to hire some police officers."
The Nassau comptroller's office says that the county paid $21.1 million in police overtime during the first half of 2013. In January-June 2012, the overtime bill was $18.7 million.
The number of overtime hours worked increased 33 percent in the first five months of this year to 275,083 from 206,679 hours over the same time period last year.
Based on these figures, the county's Office of Management and Budget, which ensures that the county's budget is balanced, projected last month that police overtime by the end of the year will be $60 million. The county budgeted $44 million in overtime for 2013.
This week, the comptroller's office predicted in its midyear projections that police overtime will increase by 21 percent this year over last year.
Plan was to save $20M
George J. Marlin, a director of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, which monitors the county's finances, said at a meeting last week that police overtime would essentially cancel out the administration's projected savings from consolidation.
The plan, which involved the merger of all eight precincts into four, was to save Nassau $20 million a year. To date, six of the precincts have merged into three precincts.
Brian Nevin, a spokesman for Republican County Executive Edward Mangano, said the consolidation savings pale in comparison with overtime costs.
"Overtime has been historically high," said Nevin. However, the merger of precincts, he said, still constituted "a significant savings for taxpayers."
Union officials and Democratic legislators say the increased overtime is caused by the precinct consolidation plan.
Legis. Dave Denenberg (D-Merrick), who ordered a recent legislative report on overtime and who has been a critic of consolidation, said the overtime increase is a direct result of the plan.
"Residents of Nassau County pay a lot of money in taxes and expect a high quality of life," Denenberg said. "If we can't provide that, it's inexcusable . . . They said the consolidation was going to save costs. Instead, costs went up. The consolidation clearly has exacerbated the overtime."
First Deputy Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said overtime increased because officers were called in to substitute for those who were sick or on vacation.
"I have 1,000 pieces of overtime reports. Every month I go over them," he said. "There is no material cost related to the consolidation, not a single dollar."
About 150 department employees left in early 2012 -- some through attrition and some as a result of a voluntary buyout plan. Those departures -- coupled with more recent internal restructuring -- left the force with fewer sworn officers compared to the 2,340 sworn officers that the consolidation plan was designed for, Krumpter said.
As of April 1, the department had 2,223 sworn officers.
PBA: Resources strained
Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont) said consolidation has led to higher overtime costs.
"It takes officers longer to process arrests" because after they make the arrest they often have to drive farther to process those accused, he said. "It might seem like the difference of a few miles, but it adds more overtime costs."
James Carver, president of the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association, said consolidation has strained police resources, leading to the higher overtime. For example, a commanding officer overseeing a consolidated precinct has seen a doubled workload, he said.
The consolidation plan, which was approved by the county legislature last year, began when the Eighth Precinct absorbed the Second Precinct in May of last year. The Third Precinct merged with the Sixth Precinct that July, and last September, the Fourth Precinct absorbed the Fifth Precinct. The planned merger of the Seventh Precinct to the First Precinct has been postponed indefinitely.
Two of the three consolidated precincts have reported an increase in major crimes between Jan. 1 and July 29 of this year compared with the same period in 2012 -- before any consolidations had begun. Criminologists consider major crime to be a barometer of a department's crime-fighting prowess.
Major crimes in the Third-Sixth Precinct went from 1,133 in 2012 to 1,219 in 2013, a 7.59 percent increase. In the Fourth-Fifth Precinct, major crimes went from 1,058 to 1,095, a 3.50 percent rise. In the Second-Eighth Precinct, major crimes fell 7.04 percent, from 810 in 2012 to 753 in 2013.
Police officials said that the precinct mergers are not responsible for the increases, saying crime in Nassau is at historic lows and that the low number of crimes can drive up percentages.
Some crimes increasing
Dale said "we see no downside" to the consolidation. "You get a crime pattern -- a robbery pattern, a burglary pattern -- it can pump up the numbers in that precinct."
The department staffs the same 176 patrol posts it did before the merger, Krumpter said.
"The people are working in the exact same place," he said. "The precinct realignment was nothing more than an administrative function. What we did was good for government efficiency."
Countywide, major crimes -- a category incorporating offenses such as murder, rape, robbery, burglary, vehicle theft and grand larceny -- stayed relatively flat. There were 4,028 major crimes from Jan. 1 to July 29 of last year, compared with 4,063 through July 29 of this year -- a 0.87 percent increase.
When all other crimes are included for the time period, the county went from 18,119 crime reports in 2012 to 16,817 reports in 2013, a 7.19 percent decline.
Solages said he's gotten complaints from constituents about longer response times since the consolidation and a recent home invasion in Elmont about five blocks from the Fifth Precinct station house has rattled residents.
"Look how brazen the criminals are because they realize the precinct is downsized," Solages said.
Carver said he was troubled by some of the kinds of crimes that were increasing.
"I don't think before we did the mergers, you saw fluctuation like you see now," Carver said. "The department will talk about how overall crime is down, but what is troubling is the type of crime that's up. That should concern people. Burglaries -- that's an invasion in your inner domain. That becomes very personal."
Krumpter said the precinct mergers have not affected street crime.
"There's an ebb and flow of crime," Krumpter said. "We look at it every single day so we can adjust our strategy. A few crimes will cause our numbers to spike."