Police overtime is coming under scrutiny as costs rise and understaffed departments demand more from their officers, especially in places like Baltimore and Chicago that are battling high homicide totals, reports the Wall Street Journal. Experts say some overtime is always needed because crime is unpredictable, and it can be cheaper than hiring officers, given the cost of training and benefits. Some departments struggle with retention and recruitment, forcing them to rely on officers to cover extra shifts. “When you have crime spikes, the quickest way to deal with that is to throw more cops at the problem,” said Jim Bueermann of the Police Foundation, a law-enforcement think tank. “The way you instantly get cops on the street when you don’t have them is through overtime, which is going to be expensive.”
Ron DeLord, a Texas lawyer who helps police unions negotiate labor contracts, said rising overtime levels are related to understaffed departments, adding it isn’t surprising some officers often volunteer for overtime when it pays 50 percent more than their regular compensation. Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh has called for an audit of police overtime after a federal racketeering indictment alleged overtime fraud by seven officers, as well as robbery and extortion. Police overtime costs jumped 88 percent from 2013 to 2016, amid a surge in violent crime and a shortage of patrol officers. Other police departments, including Seattle and San Jose, Ca., have seen overtime budgets as much as triple over the past decade. An outside report in 2015 found that Boston’s police overtime budget had grown despite higher staffing, with few internal controls. In Chicago, where shootings and homicides have surged since last year, police union president Dean Angelo Sr. said his members are paying a personal price by being asked to work one of their two days off each week. The city has announced plans to add 1,000 police officers.