Special Reports

ONLY ON ABC-7: The cost of police overtime in El Paso and Las Cruces

Police overtime budgets

EL PASO, Texas - The overtime budget in police departments is growing in cities like Baltimore, Boston and San Jose. ABC-7's investigation revealed that's not the case in El Paso and Las Cruces.

"We look at historical expense and current staffing and trends and what's happening and then we gauge it," said EPPD Assistant Chief of Police Michelle Gardner when asked about how the department's overtime budget is determined.

In fiscal year 2015, the El Paso Police department budgeted $3,999,034 for overtime and spent less than that $3,867,767. With an overall budget of $124 million, overtime accounted for approximately 3.1 percent of the total budget.

"The amount just depends on the needs that we're anticipating for that fiscal year and what we have going on so it can fluctuate year to year," added Gardner.

Fiscal year 2016 was similar, with $4,064,034 being budgeted and EPPD going over that amount by 3 percent - spending $4,199,811. With an overall budget of $120 million, overtime for EPPD accounted for approximately 3.5 percent of the total police budget.

When asked about the overtime budget, Gardner said, "we would like to see that number go down simply because that would mean that we have more staff in the units that incur overtime for call outs."

More staff is coming to EPPD.

Currently, there are 1,063 officers and the city is in year three of a 10-year program to add 300 more officers. ABC-7 asked Gardner if EPPD expects the amount of overtime to go down as more officers come on board.
"You would hope," she said, "Overall, it may not bring the total down, but it could bring certain categories of overtime down. Like call outs through special teams. If we have those teams with staffing increases then there would be less call out overtime."

Over in Las Cruces, in 2015 and 2016 the city's police department spent less than was budgeted for overtime.

In fiscal year 2015, the police department budgeted $1,758,725 for overtime, but spent $1,603,234. With an overall police department budget of $24 million, overtime accounted for approximately 6.6 percent of the total police budget.

In fiscal year 2016, $1,703,350 was budgeted and less than $1,489,953 was actually spent. With an overall police budget of $24 million that year, overtime accounted for six percent of the total police budget.

Las Cruces Chief of Police Jaime Montoya told ABC-7 he's okay with those figures.  "A lot of our overtime we budget from the general fund," Montoya said, "What we historically do for - let's say day shifts - we'll look at their overtime use and do a calculation based on the average and use that for the next fiscal year."

Both EPPD and LCPD stress overtime is inevitable.

For instance, when there is a deadly crash or a murder it's the more experienced, higher paid officers who will be called to the scene.  Most likely, a member of a specialized team - like C.S.I. or special traffic investigators - will be called in after hours.

"For example, if a Crimes Against Person detective is called out and they are actively working leads, then they need to just keep on working. We're not going to just send them home without having a good established investigation," said Gardner.

Montoya said when LCPD "calls a detective on a homicide, it's not just one or two detectives. It's probably four or five, maybe even more. People who are making the overtime are experienced officers with certain skill sets that need to be called out to handle certain calls."

"Say I hire five young officers so I don't have to have overtime. Well, guess what? I'm still going to call out those experienced officers because they're the detectives," said Montoya.

We asked both departments for the list of top 20 overtime earners for 2015 and 2016.

So who clocked in the most overtime for EPPD?

Atop the list both years was a police sergeant ABC-7 will identify by his initials J.E. Each of those years he worked more than a thousand extra hours, and brought home more than $60,000 in OT pay.

On average, the top 10 overtime earners brought home about $48,000 in OT pay per year.

"Overtime has to be requested. It's done through an automated system. It's approved by supervisors. Payroll looks at it," said Gardner.

LINK: Las Cruces Police Academy

In Las Cruces, combining 2015 and 2016, police sergeant J.S. made more than $80,000 by working more than 750 hours of overtime in 2015 and just shy of 800 in 2016.

The top 10 overtime earners averaged about $25,000 in OT pay a year.

"Lieutenants run our sections. They are in charge of their budgets. They are held accountable for their budgets, said Chief Montoya.

LINK: Steps to becoming an El Paso Police Officer

"If we see the overtime spiking we will talk to the lieutenant and ask them 'what's going on with your budgets?'"

Both departments wanted to make the point that many of the officers overtime work is for grants like "Click It or Ticket" or through programs that are reimbursed such as working the international bridges.

EPPD and LCPD also wanted to make it clear there are internal controls in place with supervisors overseeing who's getting overtime, how much and when they work OT.

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