At the work session, McMahon noted that it's not just the overtime that's a problem; it's finding enough officers to staff special events. For example, the weekend of May 19 and 20 is full of special events, including Wine in the Woods, the Columbia Triathlon and concerts at Merriweather Post Pavilion.
That weekend was so overbooked, in fact, that Girls on the Run, an after-school program for girls grades 3 through 8, had to move its seasonal 5K race up to May 12.
"No matter what, we need police presence there," Girls on the Run Executive Director Susan Michel said. "Because we're a nonprofit, I would more likely say that they should provide it to help the community. But I also believe police officers should be paid for their time."
A runner, Michel participates in a lot of racing events in the county, which she says provide an economic return.
"I know people booked hotels, go to the mall ... it gets people to Howard County," she said.
Policies elsewhere vary
Practices in surrounding jurisdictions vary.
Baltimore Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the city does charge event organizers, but the rate depends on how much staffing is required.
Prince George's CountyPolice, meanwhile, only charge in some cases.
"The PGPD has charged in the past for larger events ... and we typically handle smaller community events with on-duty resources as available at the Patrol District level," spokeswoman Julie Parker said in an email. "The decision is based upon the event, the impact on traffic, the impact on the community, etc."
Montgomery County Police do not have a cut-and-dried policy either.
"It's really based on the event, the need and our ability to provide services," spokeswoman Rebecca Innocenti said.
For example, she said, Montgomery County has hosted "large-scale, long-term" events such as golf's U.S. Open in which the organizer has provided some funds for officer security. At smaller-scale events, such as the county fair, officers are provided without charge. In other cases, like with the Filmore entertainment center in Silver Spring, off-duty county police officers are hired to staff events.
Baltimore County, however, does not charge for any event, according to police and fire department spokeswoman Elise Armacost.
"The funds for police services at festivals and parades and events and such are a part of our operating budget," she said. "We evaluate requests for those services on a case by case basis. We don't necessarily accept every single request."
Baltimore County tries to plan for officers to staff events, Armacost said, like ones that happen every year, so the department can minimize overtime costs.