Suffolk County police highway patrol officers keep watch with their...

Suffolk County police highway patrol officers keep watch with their Humvee along the eastbound LIE between exits 52-53 in Brentwood Monday, Jan. 26, 2015. Credit: James Carbone

Spending on overtime by Suffolk County police jumped by $8 million to nearly $38 million in 2014, according to year-end police department data.

Overtime spending by Nassau police was up slightly compared with 2013, but remained nearly twice as high as in Suffolk.

The data highlight the long-running struggle in Nassau and Suffolk to bring down police overtime, which accounts for about half of all overtime spending in each county. Both counties also have struggled with budget deficits.

Suffolk paid police for 90,000 more hours of overtime in 2014. The county paid $30.4 million in police overtime in 2013.

Nassau police overtime decreased by 45,892 hours, or 5 percent. But total police overtime spending rose slightly, to nearly $67.8 million because police personnel are making higher salaries under a new labor deal, officials said. Nassau police overtime costs in 2013 were $67.3 million.

Suffolk police officials said a reduction in the number of officers in recent years and an effort to proactively deploy resources based on crime patterns were driving the rise in overtime.

"When we find a pattern or trend, we throw all the resources necessary to keep the community safe," Suffolk Police Commissioner Edward Webber said in an interview.

That included a string of robberies at fast food stores and gas stations, and deployment of additional cops in Huntington Station after the slaying of Maggie Rosales, 18, Webber said.

Also, three officers in each of the seven precincts were taken off patrol and reassigned to community outreach as part of an agreement with the Department of Justice, Deputy Chief Kevin Fallon said. The agreement was the result of the federal investigation that followed the 2008 killing of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero in Patchogue.

In Nassau, officials attributed the historically high overtime costs to staffing needs after a wave of officers retired in recent years and were not immediately replaced as the county negotiated new labor contracts following a three-year wage freeze. The labor deal, which went into effect in May 2014, pays higher salaries to veteran officers, but a lower scale for new hires, who also take more time to reach top salary.

"We are moving in the right direction for the first time in a couple of years," acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter said. "But it's like turning around a battleship. It takes time."

Nassau Police Benevolent Association president James Carver said the pace of retirements -- about 150 officers left the force last year and as many as 250 more are expected to put in their papers this year -- makes it challenging to get ahead of the overtime curve.

"It will take some time to see some positive numbers," Carver said. "But our guys are working hard through some difficult circumstances."

Overtime for Suffolk police officers, detectives and top police supervisors accounted for 55 percent of total overtime for all active county employees in 2014, according to the county legislature's Budget Review Office.

Deputy sheriffs and correction officers accounted for 26 percent of the total overtime for active employees, the report said.

In Nassau, overtime costs for all other county departments in 2014 was $42.8 million, said county Comptroller George Maragos.

Suffolk police employees were paid for 639,858.38 hours of overtime in 2014, compared with 549,240.50 in 2013, data show. Two-thirds of the increase was due to the need to cover patrols and provide other "essential police services" when other officers weren't available, Fallon said.

Overtime hours in Suffolk have increased 31 percent since 2012, when Suffolk police were paid for 488,248.88 hours.

The paid overtime figure reflects roughly 1.5 times the actual hours officers worked, Fallon said.

Some county legislators said the overtime increase highlights the need to hire larger classes of new officers.

"If all of our line items went this far over budget, we'd be in even worse shape than we are now," said Suffolk Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), the minority leader. The county has a budget deficit of $95 million and the Suffolk County executive declared a fiscal emergency in January.

Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley), chairwoman of the county legislature's public safety committee, said hiring more officers would reduce overtime and relieve the burden on current officers, whom she worries are becoming overworked.

"The number we're hiring isn't covering those who are leaving," Browning said.

A Suffolk police contract in 2012 that set a lower pay structure for newly hired officers was meant to save the county money. Since then, 205 officers have joined the force, including 37 park police who were merged with the department.

However, retirements and attrition reduced the number of police officers from 2,559 to 2,352 between June 2010 and June 2014, data show.

Justin Meyers, spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, said the administration determined that using overtime was more cost effective than hiring additional officers, although he could not provide any analysis used by the administration to make the decision.

"Every department has to do everything they can to do more with less and squeeze every ounce they can out of their budgets," Meyers said.

Suffolk had adjusted its budgeted figure from $30.4 million at the beginning of the year to $37 million in September. Total police department payroll spending, estimated at $302 million, came in at $298.1 million in 2014, despite the overtime increase, Meyers said.

Nassau originally budgeted $50 million for police overtime costs in 2014. The county adjusted its projections throughout the year to account for officers who deferred overtime payments to a later date, said Eric Naughton, Nassau's deputy county executive for finance.

To cover the nearly $18 million shortfall in budgeted overtime costs, Naughton said funds were moved from other parts of the police department budget where there was a surplus. "All organizations make revisions throughout the year to reflect their actual accruals and expenditures," said Naughton.

Nassau police overtime costs are currently down 15 percent year-to-date in the first two months of 2015 compared to the same period in 2014, Krumpter said.

Webber said he's confident the overtime is justified, noting departmental policy requiring two supervisors to approve it.

Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who retired as a Suffolk police detective last year, noted overtime is used to calculate retirement benefits. "With this overtime, it's going to cost taxpayers millions of dollars in increased pension costs," he said.

Suffolk police have budgeted $35 million for overtime in 2015, while Nassau has budgeted for $51 million in police overtime expenses in 2015..

While Suffolk police overtime rose last year, sheriff and correction officer overtime decreased from 2013 to 2014 by $6.7 million, because of additional correction officer hiring and renovations of four dorms at the Yaphank jail, the budget review office said.

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