City police OT spending up and the quest for information
Over the weekend, we reported on how city overtime spending has increased sharply since Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake took office, which officials say coincides with an increase in staffing vacancies.
Efforts to rein in overtime had been a point of pride for police, who contend they have been reducing crime on a leaner budget. Officials projected in January 2010 that they would spend just $14.2 million on overtime, according to figures presented to Rawlings-Blake's transition committee as she prepared to move into mayor's office.
But the department went on to spend $16.7 million that year, a figure that jumped to $23 million the next fiscal year. In the first two months of the current fiscal year, police have spent $5.1 million on overtime, compared with $3.7 million during the same time last year.
City officials said that officers are working more overtime hours because of staffing shortages; the department has nearly 200 vacancies among its sworn strength of about 3,100 officers. In addition to the vacancies, other officers are on medical leave or have been suspended.
"There's a clear correlation between overtime spending and vacancies," Goldstein said.
But even with the increased overtime spending, police officers report that some districts remain short-staffed. And police union President Robert F. Cherry said the rising use of overtime shows the city "doesn't have a long-term plan." He has criticized Rawlings-Blake's proposal to hire hundreds of additional officers, saying he favors a redeployment of existing resources and salary increases for officers already on the payroll.
It was four weeks ago that The Sun asked City Hall for figures on overtime spending for police, after hearing rumblings that spending had increased significantly. I considered this a simple request, given that the city uses an internationally renowned program called "CitiStat" that involves agencies on a biweekly basis feeding in data so officials can monitor spending and efficiency.
The state's Public Information Act technically allows the city to provide data within 30 days, and we were often reminded of this when we called for updates. The Attorney General's Office has this to say on the topic:
"A custodian should not wait the full 30 days to allow or deny access to a record if that amount of time is not needed to respond. If access is to be granted, the record should be produced for inspection and copying promptly after the written request is evaluated."
Two sources were able to pass along the data within two days, though officials warned me not to use it because it was "not complete" as it included grant funding and reimbursable overtime. That is, the total number being tracked is not city general fund - or taxpayer - spending, but all payroll expenditures in the "overtime" classification, including money that comes from state and federal grants or is paid back by a private or other government agency. They wanted to make sure data that we got was general fund spending only, which is the number we've used when reporting on this topic over the years.
So what did city officials ultimately come up with, 29 days later? Well, the monthly data was the exact same information that they had warned me not to use. They said they were unable to extract out the grant funds and reimbursable money. That's fine, but that's what I had all along.
What they did come through with was the total general fund overtime spending for fiscal year 2011 and 2010. This was a necessary figure to have, as projections a year earlier had been lower than what it ended up being. In order to compare year over year increases, we needed to compare like data sets. Still, I wasn't able to get a clear response for why the city didn't have annual general fund spending figures offhand and required weeks to get them.
The closest thing to a response was that the CitiStat data, which includes grants and reimbursables, is intended to "provide a thumbnail snapshot of where you are in a given time. With the frequency of our internal meetings, you're watching a barometer, and trying to stay within a range on the barometer."
Meanwhile, the information provided by the sources broke down spending by unit, district and shift:
According to more detailed overtime data provided to The Sun by police sources, each district has spent more than $50,000 in overtime each two-week pay period so far this fiscal year, with the exception of the Southeastern District. The Central, Eastern and Southern have spent in excess of $80,000 in recent pay periods.
In 2007, with police overtime spending soaring and under a directive from Dixon, commanders limited overtime spending for each of the city's nine police districts to $30,000 per pay period.
The Southeastern District spent $165,156 in overtime in July and August, far below the average of the nine districts, which was $268,680.
"The demand in my district for police officers has been increasing exponentially," said Kraft, the Southeast Baltimore councilman.
The records show the department's Violent Crime Impact section, which is composed of plainclothes officers working in the city's most violent areas, has received $570,800 in overtime pay this fiscal year, while the Homeland Security Division has received $310,762. The Detective Division received $1.18 million, including $268,500 to the homicide unit and $41,800 to the citywide robbery unit.