Cleveland squanders hundreds of thousands of tax dollars each year paying police officers overtime for attending court proceedings where they’re not needed, including some hearings that never happened at all, says the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Each weekday, roughly 160 police officers head to the Justice Center on overtime to help prosecute everything from speeding to murder – running a tab of about $17,000 a day. Court-related overtime is the equivalent of a second job for some officers, providing nearly $40,000 a year above an average base pay of about $44,000. Rarely do the officers testify before a judge or jury. Instead, they often come to the courthouse in packs – when one officer would do – to consult with attorneys, to await trials that are repeatedly postponed and to observe plea hearings or sentencings without saying a word.
The newspaper says some officers rack up questionable overtime by claiming to work long hours that records don’t appear to support or, in some cases, contradict.
Officers crowd the courthouse’s back hallways weekday mornings chatting and sipping coffee as prosecutors and defense attorneys hash out plea deals. One judge has seen officers sleeping on the couch outside her chambers. “There ought to be a little bit of accountability in this somewhere,” said Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Ron Suster. “It seems odd to me that sometimes so many policemen want to come down here and wait.”
Court overtime for police cost taxpayers nearly $5 million last year – 45 percent more than in Dayton, Cincinnati, Toledo, and Akron combined. It has become the most unwieldy component of a bloated police overtime bill that totaled $12.8 million in 2002 and has bedeviled city efforts to corral it. “We have to reel that in,” said Cleveland Public Safety Director James Draper. “There’s something wrong with the picture.” Cleveland officials say it’s a prime culprit in the city’s deepening financial crisis. Mayor Jane Campbell has warned that city workers could be laid off next year if spending is not brought under control.