July 10, 2002

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For the record
The SFPD's hefty overtime tab isn't that big

By A.C. Thompson

Last week we wrote that the San Francisco Police Department has slated $31.2 million for overtime for the coming fiscal year. That $31.2 mil figure is wrong – the product of some bad math on our part. The real number – as the cops were quick, and right, to point out after the story ran – is about $24.5 million, with $13.3 million coming from the city's General Fund and the rest coming in the form of federal and state grants. The District Attorney's Office will pick up about $3 million more in court-related overtime costs.

"I was hoping you were right," SFPD fiscal director Jim Goldberg joked. "I was hoping we had more money to spend."

Goldberg explained that city spending on O.T. has dropped from a high of approximately $17 million in fiscal year 2000-01. But the key point of the story remains: the SFPD spends more money per officer on overtime than several other big-city police departments, including Philadelphia's and Los Angeles's. Given San Francisco's horrid financial situation, trimming O.T. excesses might be one way to help balance the budget.

We asked Goldberg about the 175 cops earning between $30,000 and $88,000 annually in overtime pay. "The department certainly looks at the earnings of officers," he said. "Officers are supposed to limit voluntary overtime to 20 hours a week." But, he added, "we are an emergency service, and we work long hours, many days in row."

For a national perspective on the issue, we contacted the U.S. Justice Department, which has been working on strategies to control police overtime spending since the late 1990s. "It's a critical issue in law enforcement," said spokesperson Gilbert Moore. One strategy suggested by the Justice Department: Police managers should keep closer tabs on court-related overtime costs (incurred when officers testify in cases or meet with prosecutors to discuss pending cases), which are a major expense in most jurisdictions, including San Francisco.

E-mail A.C. Thompson at ac_thompson@sfbg.com.