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Editorial: Don't blame revamped precincts for Nassau overtime costs

Nassau police overtime pay increased 13 percent in

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. (March 30, 2013) Credit: Paul Mazza

As tempting as it is for some politicians and police advocates to blame increased overtime costs in Nassau County on the recent consolidation of police precincts, the facts disagree.

Overtime costs, up 13 percent in the first half of this year compared with 2012, increased because of attrition, spurred partially by a voluntary buyout. The county department's head count is 2,223 sworn officers, about 100 cops short of what was envisioned when the consolidation plan was drawn up. A current training class of 30 new officers and as many as 260 more slated to be hired over the next couple of years will help control overtime costs.

Vacancies in the department indicate one way costs can be controlled: While overtime expenses rose 13 percent, overtime hours increased 33 percent, meaning the cops earning the overtime this year averaged far less per hour than in 2012.

Before consolidation in 2012 took the department from eight precincts to five, the county had 176 patrol posts to cover at all times. It still does. So consolidation hasn't caused most overtime spending. The main cause is usually scheduled officers calling in sick or taking vacation.

Nassau police officials say senior cops are uncertain how pensions will be calculated under future contracts, prompting many to consider retiring by the end of 2013 to capture the copious overtime generated by superstorm Sandy into their pension checks. The heavy attrition will continue.

There is an opportunity to reduce overtime costs if the department keeps up with hiring, because new cops earn far less than retirees. It also means the last contract proposal between the county and the Police Benevolent Association that came close to being signed needs to be revisited. It would create savings by slowing down the step raises of new hires. The county, the police department and the PBA all have something to gain from doing that deal under these circumstances.

We need more cops, but less costly ones, not more precincts.