Spending on police overtime in Suffolk County increased by 6.5 percent to $47 million in 2016, as officials in the county continued to struggle with high police overtime costs, Police Commissioner Timothy Sini said Thursday.
The $2.85 million increase caused the county to exceed its police overtime budget by $14.3 million last year. The department also is expected to exceed its overtime budget by a similar amount in 2017 even if costs don’t increase, according to county records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
The figures show that since 2012, when the county passed a new police contract, department overtime costs have risen 68 percent, from $28 million to $47 million. Total police overtime hours have increased by 50 percent, from 488,249 to 731,498.
Nonetheless, Sini said the department was making progress in taming overtime. He said the increase in overtime hours last year was the lowest in “several years.”
“We slowed down the rate of increase,” Sini said at a news conference at police headquarters in Yaphank. “But we have much more work to be done.”
Sini said the department’s goal is to keep overtime hours flat or decrease them in 2017.
The county budgeted $32.7 million for overtime in 2016 and $32.5 million in 2017. The figures do not include holiday overtime and OT funded through federal grants, which totaled $10.5 million in 2016.
In Nassau County, police overtime hit a record of more than $70 million in 2016. Costs increased by nearly 50 percent from 2011 through 2016, according to Nassau County Legislature’s Office of Budget Review.
The increased police overtime spending comes as Suffolk faces a budget deficit of more than $135 million a year.
County Executive Steve Bellone and the Suffolk Legislature have raised fees by more than $80 million in the past two years and hiked police district property taxes to help pay for police contracts. On March 28, lawmakers are scheduled to vote on doubling a $55 fee on traffic and parking tickets to raise $5.5 million a year to pay for police.
Sini said higher overtime has been driven by a decline in the number of police officers and provisions in union contracts that force additional overtime. He declined to specify the contract clauses but said he is looking forward to working with county officials and the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association on “structural realities” that would lower overtime.
PBA president Noel DiGerolamo said the union would be happy to work on a new contract that reduces overtime costs. The existing agreement ends in 2018.
But DiGerolamo said the real solution is to hire more officers.
“What I don’t want is to have our officers work so much. There is a potential for them to get hurt,” he said.
The department has 173 new recruits — the second-largest class ever — who will graduate by April 14, Sini said.
“Having these officers out on the street will effectively allow us to reduce” overtime, Sini said.
Sini also said the lower pay scale for officers hired under the new contract would help control overtime costs. New cops don’t reach top pay under the current contract until 12 years on the job, while officers under the previous contract reached top pay in six years. Top base pay for new recruits is $111,506 compared with $132,972 under the prior contract.
But Sini, who served as an assistant deputy county executive under Bellone before becoming commissioner, said he believed the county should have been hiring more cops.
“I think we should’ve hired more officers earlier,” he said.
The Bellone administration didn’t directly respond to Sini’s comment. But officials have defended their pace of police hiring as the result of careful analysis of manpower needs.
In a statement, Bellone said: “Public Safety is our top priority but we are always looking for ways to reduce costs. That is why we negotiated an agreement outside the broken system of mandatory arbitration that makes new police officers more affordable.”
Legislative Minority Leader Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) said continued high overtime is a sign of mismanagement.
“The amount is significantly above what we budgeted,” McCaffrey said. “The county cannot afford to pay what we’re paying.”
Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) said he believed more hiring would help control overtime.
“The more personnel we continue to hire, that will certainly reduce the need and pressure,” Gregory said.
Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), a former Suffolk police detective, said the high overtime — and the inability to budget for it — demonstrates that the Suffolk PBA got the better of Bellone in contract negotiations.
“The bottom line is that taxpayers are left paying the prices for this mismanagement,” Trotta said.