Boston police overtime driven by short staffing, absences, cops say

Boston Police overtime spending is driven by short staffing and officer absences, BPD officials said as councilors diverged sharply as to how to rein in the ever-high OT costs.

BPD Superintendent Jim Hasson told the council during a Tuesday morning hearing that about 33% of officers are off work on average this year, leading to 94 officer shifts that have to be replaced in order to maintain minimum staffing levels each day — just under nine per day per precinct.

That 33% is actually slightly lower than it’s been in past years, as the percent of officers off is usually around 34.

Hasson said 68% of OT costs are either for “replacement costs” — pulling in an officer to cover one of those missing shifts — or “extended tours,” which is when officers simply have to work longer, normally to finish up something that started during their shift.

Hasson said the department is looking at saving money by staffing up to 100 administrative roles with civilian rather than sworn officers, evaluating minimum staffing requirements, adding doctors and orthopedic specialists to assess non-acute injuries to see if people can return to work and more aggressively moving for “involuntary retirements ” for cops who have been out on leave for years.

Hasson said the force also is short-staffed, with around 1,800 officers, and likely would need at least 2,200 or 2,300.

The comes as some activists and city councilors continue to look to “defund the police,” as protesters have called for in the month and a half since protests erupted following several high-profile police killings of minorities.

In Boston, that has meant a push to cut 20% of the BPD’s $414 million total budget. Mayor Martin Walsh’s revised budget cut $12 million of the BPD’s $60 million overtime budget, a compromise several city councilors called insufficient and voted against.

That budget did pass at the end of June, and now councilors are both seeking controls to make sure the BPD actually stays within a $48 million budget. Police overtime is a rarity in the municipal budget in that it is allowed to overrun and still automatically be paid; for example, the BPD ran more than $12 million over the $60 million budget last year, so the cut to $48 million would effectively involve dropping the overtime costs by a full third.

Several councilors said the BPD’s ideas presented at the hearing were not firm enough.

“I’m a bit frustrated,” City Councilor Andrea Campbell told the police officers. “Until we have commitments as to how to do that then this is just a total waste of time.”

And Councilor Kenzie Bok, who chaired the hearing, said, “We’re not yet looking at a plan.”

Hasson pushed back, saying, “It’s a multi-faceted strategy and every approach is going to take one little piece.”

Meanwhile, City Councilor Ed Flynn took the opposite approach: hire more cops.

“We need to have more police officers on the streets,” Flynn said, suggesting it might be time to raise taxes to do this. “I’m talking 300 or 400 police officers.”

Similarly, Councilor Annissa Essaibi George talked about ramping up hiring efforts to “right-size our police force.”

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