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Audit: Gresham police should hire six more officers

Department ends up with nearly twice as much overtime as other similarly sized cities

Gresham police work nearly twice as much overtime as officers in similarly sized cities, according to an audit released Tuesday.

In fact, 44 percent of one officer's $112,435 pay was from overtime during fiscal year 2004-05.

The eight-month audit found that Gresham police rely too much on overtime to meet predictable workloads - so much so that the department could save $1.5 million in 'excessive' overtime costs over five years if Gresham hired six additional patrol officers, the auditor found.

Due to the department's low officer-to-citizen ratio - 1.23 officers per 1,000 citizens, second only to Salem when compared to six similarly sized cities - officers must use overtime to meet minimum staffing levels when other officers are on vacation, sick or injured.

The audit, conducted by City Auditor David Dean, found:

• Over the past five years, such 'cover shift overtime' was the largest cause of overtime, accounting for 23 percent of all overtime hours worked in the department.

• In fiscal year 2005, officers worked an average of 800 hours of overtime a month covering basic shifts. That's the equivalent of about six full-time employees.

• Gresham officers worked 32,319 hours of overtime in 2005, or 15.8 percent of the total 203,966 hours worked. However, in six similarly sized cities, 8.2 percent of hours worked were considered overtime.

• Overtime per officer also was high. The average Gresham officer worked 79 percent more overtime, or 274 hours a year, than an average officer from the six comparable cities that worked only 153 hours of overtime a year.

Echoes of fire department audit

The audit echoes the findings of a fire department audit that Dean completed in December. This spring, the city's budget committee funded six additional firefighters as recommended in the audit.

Although Gresham's police overtime audit recommends hiring six additional officers to help alleviate lean staffing, it also emphasizes the need for more cost controls.

Dean noted that police overtime can't be eliminated altogether due to the inevitable shift extensions needed for officers to complete an arrest, testify in court, conduct criminal investigations and undergo training - all of which drive overtime costs.

'However, research suggests substantial opportunities for cost savings do exist,' Dean wrote.

Among his recommendations:

• Add six officers, the initial cost of which would be $600,000 for training, equipment and salaries. However, those extra patrol officers would save $300,000 a year in costly overtime hours by working less expensive straight time.

• Organize a group to develop ways to manage overtime costs, increase accountability, better track expenses and analyze them.

• Develop stronger budget and accounting procedures for police overtime. Although the police overtime budget has remained stable in recent years at about $1 million, total overtime costs - including 'comp' time and additional payroll - are actually twice that. 'Moreover, current budget and accounting methods provide no real spending limits because excessive overtime is paid from other unspent funds, including salary savings from unfilled positions,' Dean wrote. 'Neither the department's budget nor any other management report currently available shows the full cost of police overtime.'

• Reduce compensatory or 'comp' time. Overtime costs for comp time is up 120 percent, compared to a 12-percent increase in true overtime costs and a total overtime cost increase of 29 percent from 2003 and 2005. In fact, comp time has nearly tripled over the last five years from 3,431 hours in 2001 to 9,960 hours in 2005.

Officers who work overtime can choose between receiving one-and-a-half times their regular salary rates or receiving comp time, also at the rate of one-and-a-half-times the number of hours worked.

Comp time more appealing

But many officers prefer to take comp time and bank it, said Capt. Tim Gerkman. This gives them the option of racking up what some consider supplemental vacation time or cashing it out six times a year. And because officers receive a separate check for comp-time pay, they pay fewer taxes than they would have on overtime wages, Gerkman said.

And comp time use is important to track, according to the audit, 'because comp time represents less policing and because every hour worked must be repaid at time and a half. Paid overtime, on the other hand, increases policing activity even though it is paid at the same premium rate.'

Plus there's the ripple effect of comp time: When someone takes the day off, another officer will need to fill those shoes and may very well work overtime to do it.

That's not to say Gresham police aren't trying to rein in overtime costs a bit. Supervisors must approve overtime and adjust schedules so officers can attend training on straight time instead of overtime. Also, supervisors deny time off if it would result in below-minimum-staffing levels.

'I don't disagree that there's a need to update policies and procedures,' Gresham Police Chief Carla Piluso said of the audit. However, changes that will most affect overtime costs will depend on cooperation from police unions, she said.

For example, during the latest contract negotiations, city and union officials agreed to raise the staffing levels required before time off can be allowed.

'There's no easy answer to this one,' Piluso said. With court appearances, investigations and other unforeseen aspects of police work, 'you can hire all the new officers in the world, and there will still be overtime,' she said.

Piluso said she plans to convene a work group, including finance staff members, to determine how best to track, report and manage overtime. Long-term, she'd like to update the entire departments' rules and regulations to align them with state and federal standards.

Gresham Mayor Charles Becker called the recommendations realistic, adding that they can be accomplished with collaborative efforts. He expects the city's budget committee to discuss hiring additional police officers next spring during the budget process.