An MTA police vehicle near the LIRR Floral Park station. Overtime spending...

An MTA police vehicle near the LIRR Floral Park station. Overtime spending by MTA police jumped 21% between 2018 and 2020, according to a report.     Credit: Howard Schnapp

Overtime spending by MTA police jumped 21% between 2018 and 2020, primarily due to "special projects" ordered by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office — and the agency’s police department was not entirely transparent about its total spending, an MTA inspector general's report said.

The report sparked recommendations that were agreed to by the agency.

The office of the MTA inspector general began a review after Metropolitan Transportation Authority board members questioned the police department's payroll and overtime spending increases.

Total payroll for the agency's police force grew 11.3%, from $103.9 million to $115.6 million, between 2018 and 2020. During the same period, overtime spending increased 21%, from $27.5 million to $33.3 million, averaging $29.5 million per year.

The overtime increase was in large part driven by high-priority projects ordered by Cuomo's office and senior MTA officials to make the transportation system safer. MTA police were tasked with homelessness outreach, curbing fare evasion and beefing up security at stations, according to the report. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the MTA officers also managed the transit system's overnight shutdown.

The agency’s police department "did not prepare a budget or cost estimate for any of the 2019 and 2020 special projects before or during its deployment, nor were actual costs tracked as they were spent," according to the report, titled "Transparency on Overtime and Program Spending at the MTA Police Department."

MTA police are responsible for safety and security at Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station, the Long Island Rail Road, Metro-North and Staten Island Railway.

"Transparency is the cornerstone of public trust," said MTA Inspector General Carolyn Pokorny. "When future special projects arise, the MTA Police Department can help themselves and MTA stakeholders by accurately tracking and reporting project costs."

The MTA Police Department said the urgency of the work did not "allow for sufficient planning," the report states.

While the police department reported a total of $19.1 million in overtime costs to run the initiatives in 2019 and 2020, it did not disclose the officers’ regular pay, estimated by the inspector general's office to be an extra $12.5 million, for a total cost of $31.6 million, per the review.

The inspector general made two recommendations: The agency must prepare a program budget for future special projects that includes regular pay and anticipated overtime expenses, while also tracking actual spending on each project. The agency agreed with them.

Patrick Warren, chief safety and security officer at the MTA, said officers worked closely with the NYPD amid the coronavirus crisis. "We agree overtime needs to be managed appropriately — as it has been at the MTA PD — and is a vital tool used by every transportation agency in the country," Warren said.

Agencywide, the MTA has reduced its overtime expenses by $257 million — 19% — from 2018 to 2020.

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