Chapter IV

'Overtime hours out of control'

This is the fourth in a six-part series that delves into a performance and management study of the Sunnyside Police Department, commissioned at a cost of about $50,000. Of the 13 formal recommendations found in chapter four (Patrol Operations) of the recently released study of the Sunnyside Police Department, eight of the suggestions deal directly with controlling overtime costs and other expenditures.

MGT of America, an Austin, Texas-based firm, conducted the study late in 2011. The firm's analysts point out that the city of Sunnyside's policy is to avoid the need for overtime work and that authorized overtime be kept to a minimum.

Specifically, the analysts say the Sunnyside PD's patrol officers are not doing a good job of avoiding, or even minimizing overtime; going so far as to say that "...the use of overtime is out of control."

Numbers-wise, the study reflects that last year through the end of July the 27 staff members who made up the patrol division, detectives, gang officers, school resource officers and the HUD officer had been paid more than $230,000 in overtime, which equates to about 23.5 percent of their regular salaries.

"This averages $8,588 for the year-to-date, or about $1,226 per month (per employee)," according to the analysts.

The study shows that in 2010 police officers and sergeants were paid overtime wages at a rate of 26.8 percent of their regular salaries, about 3.3 percent more than through the first seven months of 2011.

On the surface, say the analysts, when comparing the first seven months of 2011 to all of 2010, the use of overtime has dropped somewhat, "...but it is only based on year-to-date for 2011 so it is difficult to draw major conclusions..."

The report also shows that in 2010 one sergeant on staff at the Sunnyside PD was paid more than $32,000 in overtime pay. "These are extraordinary figures. And clearly, little attention is paid to the policy that overtime is to be avoided," said the MGT analysts. They also go on to point out that the sergeant in question spends many hours making trips to Seattle to deal with issues regarding the purchase of police vehicles.

"This practice does not appear to be a wise use of time," said the MGT experts.

Of the 13 recommendations made in chapter four, none come across more strongly than the one that states, "The chief of police (Ed Radder) should make controlling overtime expenditures a priority." The MGT analysts stress he should hold shift supervisors responsible for all overtime on their watch, and that they be required to sign all time sheets for each period with overtime, a practice not being followed when the study was being completed. The analysts also point out that the chief needs to eliminate, or revise, the department's practices regarding trips to Seattle.

The other recommendations in the "Patrol Operations" chapter of the study that address overtime pay and reducing expenditures include:

...The chief and deputy chief of police should establish a formal mandatory minimum staffing standard in the department's standard operating procedures.

This, say analysts, would guide supervisors as they have to make decisions on using overtime to fill shifts that are not at full staffing due to officers taking vacation or sick time, or other time allotted. The MGT analysts also said that because demand for service during early morning hours on most days of the week is very low, a level of flexibility should be provided for in any mandatory staffing standard.

...Assess the level of fatigue experienced by the current shift schedule, including the quality of their sleep and fatigue experienced while on duty.

The performance and management review goes on to recommend that the assignment of overtime should be minimized for those officers who have just completed working 48 hours in four consecutive days. The analysts point out that a 2002 study shows there is little negative impact concerning fatigue when officers work the longer 12-hour shifts, like those used in Sunnyside, but when accounting for considerable overtime, fatigue may become an issue.

...When possible, the current labor agreement should be amended to include a vacation relief position.

The MGT analysts say the recent hiring of a 31st officer should reduce reliance on overtime, if the newly hired officer is used extensively in a relief role. But, they add, it does not appear that a flexible/vacation relief position is provided for in the agreement with the local police guild.

...The chief of police should review how uncommitted patrol officers' time is being spent to ensure that these hours are directed toward crime prevention and improving the quality of life for Sunnyside citizens, based on performance data, an analysis of calls for service and departmental goals and objectives.

The results of the study show that local patrol officers, on average, have a substantial amount of time, more than nine hours each 12-hour shift, that is uncommitted. The MGT staff said even if 25 percent of this uncommitted time is used for administrative activities, that still leaves each patrolman with six and a half hours of uncommitted time each day (53 percent of their working day). Typically, said the analysts, this figure is closer to 15 to 35 percent in other police departments.

"Some of this time may be spent investigating crimes, but how much time is not captured in any system," the analysts concluded.

By having the police chief complete a review of how the officers are spending their time on each shift, and directing them toward crime prevention work, the analysts said this should help establish criteria for determining whether overtime is needed.

...A power shift of noon to midnight, or even 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., should be considered to better fit demand for service.

According to the study, the use of power shifts helps departments match their resources with the demand for services, and helps minimize the short periods of idle time, which reflects over-staffing and is inefficient.

...Policies that allow for disparate rates of sick time accrual should be reviewed and re-evaluated in the next contract negotiation to ensure all employees earn an equal share of overtime, irrespective of schedule.

...Policies that allow for the use of leave time, while accruing overtime at a premium rate should be reviewed and re-evaluated in the next contract negotiation.

To put it succinctly, the MGT analysts said the city's agreement with the local police officer guild contributes to the excessive use of overtime and the associated excessive costs. In these lean economic times, said the analysts, all options to save money should be reviewed, including the current labor agreement provision that allows for the use of both sick time and overtime to accrue overtime in any given pay period.

Other concerns

Other areas addressed in chapter four that do not directly relate to overtime and excessive expenditures include the current level of information technology support, the prioritizing of calls for service, response time goals and the alarm service provided to local merchants and residents by the police department.

IT support

The analysts' formal recommendation is that the police chief should work with the city manager to identify ways in which the level of information technology support could be improved.

The MGT staff points out that the one IT employee staffed by the city has little time to focus on the particular needs of the police department, nor has the time to undergo the training necessary to gain the expertise to attend to the police department's IT needs in an efficient manner.

As a result, the study shows, many of the mobile data units in Sunnyside's newly purchased patrol cars have failed, "...rendering an officer incapable of communicating properly or quickly accessing relevant data while answering a call or responding to an incident." The analysts said not only does this expose an officer to needless risk, it can impede the department from exercising its law enforcement duties in the most efficient manner possible.

Prioritizing calls

The study determined that the practices and the system used by the local police department to establish call priorities may result in delays and inefficiencies because practices don't appear to align with standard operating procedures or the CAD's system coding of priorities. Analysts said because the standard operating procedures have a very limited number of codes that don't reflect the universe of codes in the CAD system, the descriptors are not written very clearly.

The MGT staff added that the system was recently changed and priority numbers were modified. "The change may have led to inconsistent application of the codes by call takers/dispatchers and officers," the analysts conclude.

The formal recommendation is for the police department to adjust its priority system so it considers both the time of the offense and its seriousness, particularly in the case of violent offenses. "There should be little, if any, inconsistency and concern that dispatches are using codes from an old system," added the analysts.

Response time goals

The official recommendation is for the police department to establish response time goals to better inform and serve the community.

The study details that the officers' response time to priority one calls averaged 8.5 minutes, citing that the Sunnyside PD has no targets or goals for response time. Priority two calls, said the analysts, had even a slightly shorter response time, "...which indicates there is little difference in the response by officers to either of these two highest priority calls." Analysts said this could be because the descriptors of the priority codes are vague so priority codes one and two are treated the same.

Alarm service

Point blank, the MGT analysts say the Sunnyside Police Department should discontinue providing alarm services to the merchants and residents of the community.

They note that although the department would still dispatch officers upon notification from a private alarm company, the necessity to update the PD's current equipment and the potential liability of maintaining an alarm service does not justify the relatively small annual revenue generated by operating such a system.

The analysts also point out there are numerous private alarm service companies that are competitive, if not superior, to the alarm service currently being provided by local police.


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