Kent Police overtime pay soars for officers

The high overtime hours and pay worked by several Kent Police officers indicates that the force needs to continue to expand, city leaders say.

Two officers earned more than $60,000 each last year in overtime pay, making them among the highest paid city employees.

Patrol officer Jennifer Prusa worked 1,063 overtime hours in 2015 for extra pay of $68,525, tops among the nearly 150 officers on the force, according to city records obtained through a public records request by the Kent Reporter. Prusa earned an annual base salary of $77,676.

Sgt. Thomas Clark worked 835 overtime hours for pay of $63,151, in addition to his annual base salary of $91,968. That combined income of $155,119 put Clark up among fellow Sgts. Tim Barbour and Joseph Gagner (who also earned high OT pay) as the top five highest paid city employees behind Chief Administrative Officer Derek Matheson and just ahead of Police Chief Ken Thomas. Prusa ranked eighth on the list.

It’s a lot of overtime hours and pay. It’s also an indication to Councilman Jim Berrios, who chairs the City Council’s Public Safety Committee that the police force needs to expand.

“It shows a need to continue to support the police with more officers, given the size of our city and the challenges in our city with the different types of crimes,” Berrios said in a phone interview after he looked at the overtime hours and pay.

Chief Thomas issued a report last month to the Public Safety Committee that the department is spending an average of about $1.5 million per year in overtime costs over the last few years, way above its budgeted amount of $650,000. Thomas told city officials he needs about 160 to 165 officers to be fully staffed.

The council’s proposed 2017-2018 budget includes three new officers next year and four more in 2018, one more in each year than what Mayor Suzette Cooke proposed.

Assistant Police Chief Rafael Padilla, who oversaw a recently study about overtime costs, explained how several officers end up with so many extra hours and pay.

“It is mostly voluntary overtime,” said Padilla in an email. “On occasion officers are assigned late calls just prior to the end shift that causes overtime, they are called in to testify at court on their time off and sometimes they are mandated to work overtime when we can’t find volunteers to cover it.”

About 62 percent of the overtime costs are from the patrol staff, which includes about 90 officers, Padilla said. Certain target patrol staff levels need to be met to cover peak call volume days or nights. Overtime is paid at time and a half.

“In an ideal situation, we wouldn’t need to ask our officers to work overtime, but officers don’t work office hours and just because their shift is supposed to end doesn’t mean they can simply leave and go home,” he said.

No OT limits per week

As far as concerns about officers working too many hours, Padilla said they try to keep on top of that.

“We are always concerned about the wellness of our officers, but there are many factors that go into regulating officer overtime, including the officers’ collective bargaining agreement,” Padilla said.

The police department doesn’t have any overtime limits per week or month for officers, but an officer cannot (barring a major emergency) work more than 16 hours in a 24-hour period. They are required to have an eight-hour break between shifts.

Eight officers were paid $40,000 or more in overtime last year as each worked 600 to 1,000 extra hours.

Berrios said, however, that none of the 10 officers who received the most overtime pay last year showed up on the police department’s early warning list, a system used by the force to track officer’s conduct through such items as citizen complaints, use of force, use of sick leave and substandard job evaluations.

“It’s part of the checks and balances for the wellness of the officers,” Berrios said. “They do that to track any indications of concern about job performance.”

If averaged over a 52-week period, Prusa, who has been with the department for seven years, worked at least 60 hours per week. Her 1,063 overtime hours were more than 200 hours higher than the next officer.

“Without a breakdown of all of her overtime assignments I can’t be accurate as to why she worked the hours,” Padilla said. “It is safe to assume that most of her overtime was voluntary and some of her overtime was required as part of her job assignment.”

Berrios said he spent time earlier this year on patrol with Prusa and she talked about working a lot of overtime because of her duties as a Neighborhood Response Team leader and filling in as an acting sergeant due to sick leave of another officer.

“She was clear she knows her limitations,” Berrios said. “She made a decision whether to work extra hours and there is a need for extra time. She helped out the team with her extra time.”

Berrios said from his perspective Prusa, “didn’t appear to be worn out or burning out.”

Supervisors approve overtime for officers. Officer Eric Moore, in his 10th year on the force, worked 800 overtime hours for pay of $47,799. Officer Steven Kelly, in his 29th year with Kent, worked 666 OT hours for pay of $44,554.

Sergeants work extra hours

Six of the 10 officers who received the most overtime pay in 2015 were sergeants. A commander must approve overtime for sergeants.

“Sergeants like officers predominantly work overtime that is voluntary to cover staffing needs,” Padilla said. “In addition to covering sergeant staffing, they can also work officer overtime. Officers get first priority to work officer overtime, but if it isn’t filled by an officer the sergeants can work it.”

Three sergeants earned more pay in 2015 than Chief Thomas when their overtime pay was combined with their annual base salaries of $91,968, which increase based on years of service. Gagner has worked 31 years with Kent, Barbour 23 and Clark 17 years. Other sergeants earned much less in overtime than those on the high end.

“Sergeants volunteer for the majority of their overtime,” Padilla said. “Some sergeants chose to work more than others. Some sergeants, such as the detective sergeants are on call a lot and have to come in on their time off to handle major crimes/incidents.”

The council agreed to hire more officers over the next two years in an effort to help bring down overtime costs. The 2016 base salary for a probationary police recruit officer starts at $61,800, according to the city website.

Seventy-six officers – half the force – were paid $10,000 or more in overtime in 2105.

“I’m very grateful we have officers willing to do their best for the city to pick up the extra hours needed to patrol the streets,” Berrios said.

In addition to the patrol staff overtime costs, the rest of the overtime is spread among shift extensions when an officer gets a call near the end of the shift that requires overtime (10 percent); sick or injury leave when overtime officers fill in (9 percent); court appearances when officers are required to be in court on their time off (6 percent); and major investigators when all divisions deal with homicides, fatality crashes, shootings or other similar incidents (6 percent). Training, special events (Kent Cornucopia Days festival) and emphasis patrols compose the rest of the overtime costs.

“We are continually working to bring overtime down, but providing police services will always require our officers to work a certain amount of overtime,” Padilla said. “Our community insists that we provide adequate police staffing and running shorthanded is not a feasible option for many obvious reasons.”

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