If you ran any business, for profit or non-profit, you would be fired if you could not account for $47 million in overtime expenses. In fact, it is unlikely that your organization would stay in business if you couldn’t justify such an expenditure of funds.
The Baltimore Police Department and City Hall would have us believe that it is impossible to manage overtime expenditures because they lack technology and still use paper time sheets. This is simply untrue. Rather, they refuse to try to control overtime and hold people accountable.
In order to get paid overtime, each police officer has to fill out an overtime slip with the number of hours worked and where. That slip must be signed by a supervisor, and then an administrative person enters this information into a computer program. This information goes to accounting, and then the officer is paid based on the hours recorded and approved.
How hard would it be for the police to add a single line to the overtime slip requiring each officer to record the reason they worked overtime: staff shortage, investigation, detail/event or crime initiative. The BPD could then track how much overtime is being spent on each of these areas. They could budget for staff shortages and perhaps finally make and implement a realistic plan to hire more officers to cover these staff shortages and reduce overtime spending. They could assess if overtime spent on specific crime reduction initiatives actually reduced crime. Those crime initiatives that are cost effective could be funded, while those that had no impact would be discontinued.
How hard would it be to run an Excel spreadsheet every pay period and actually look to see which officers are working 40 hours or more of overtime per pay period? Who are they? Are some of these officers abusing overtime? Is it safe or effective to have an officer working 70 hours per week? Are officers and their supervisors following BPD rules limiting overtime? Perhaps someone should talk to them and their supervisors and put limits on the amount of overtime they can work.
While this sounds absurdly simplistic, it would make a difference. It was done in the past (2007 -2010) with the same paper timesheets, accounting system and Excel. The BPD cut overtime spending in half and had budgets for each district and certain investigative divisions. Better technology would be nice, but its absence isn’t an excuse to do nothing.
Make a budget, collect data and provide oversight. How hard can that be?
Sheryl Goldstein (email@example.com) was director of the Baltimore Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice from 2007 to 2012.