Kent Police overtime payments have gone up in each of the last six years despite efforts by the chief and command staff to arrange officers’ schedules to reduce extra costs.
Police overtime costs are expected to hit an estimated $2.8 million in 2019, according to city documents. That’s up almost $1 million from the $1.9 million in overtime costs in 2o14. Costs have gone up between $70,000 and $255,000 each year over the last six years.
“There are so many variables to why the overtime is what it is, and a good percentage of those are ones we can’t control,” said Police Chief Rafael Padilla during an interview Dec. 16 at police headquarters.
The police department also oversees the city’s jail, so overtime payments are for the officers on the streets and correction officers at the jail. Padilla said the city budget allows for 160 police officers and 26 corrections officers.
“One trigger is how lean we are in staffing,” Padilla said about the overtime costs. “Anyone who is hurt, takes leave or vacation, that impacts staffing. And we have minimum target staffing, so when we come below that, it triggers mandatory overtime to fill. The jail and police are in the same boat with that.”
Although allowed to have 160 officers, Padilla said five positions remain open. Earlier this year, the department had a dozen vacancies.
“We are mandating a lot of overtime,” Padilla said. “We do not have sufficient numbers and with a bunch of vacancies, there still are not enough officers to cover all of the needs.”
The city council also approved hiring five more officers in 2020 as it has tried to boost staffing in each of the last several years.
“A city our size needs to be about 190 officers based on the number of officers per population, and we are not there yet,” Council President Bill Boyce said in a phone interview about studies that recommend how many officers a department should employ. “My main concern is that the officers are safe when they work a lot of hours. We are not where we want to be with overtime. We have to get staff up to where we need to be. We need that work/life balance.”
City and police leaders have talked about going back to voters to ask for more taxes or fees to hire more officers. Voters rejected a hike in utility taxes in 2018 to hire more officers.
“I know we have been creeping up year by year,” Boyce said about overtime payments. “Hopefully, next year we will see it starting to go down if we get to 160 officers.”
Padilla cautioned, however, that more staff doesn’t necessarily lead to lower overtime costs, which have gone up the last several years despite additional officers.
“It will help, but I don’t want to mislead anyone,” Padilla said. “It’s nearly impossible to run a 24/7 operation and not incur some overtime. … We try to control overtime, but we cannot control all overtime. It is part of running a police department.”
The chief said additional staff would help when officers leave, but many other factors lead to overtime costs.
An officer working a late case cannot just quit at 5 and go home, Padilla said. They need to do a report. And if officers get last-minute calls, it can take up to two or three hours to resolve the incident before they get to go home.
Other overtime factors include court appearances, filling in for sick or injured officers, training, special events and major homicide cases that lead to extra hours for detectives.
“Calls for service are up,” Padilla said. “Our region is growing, and we are the busiest city in South King County. We handle almost double (the crime reports) than most of our comparable cities.”
Overtime costs are covered by funds saved from the vacant positions and other times from the general fund. The police department puts a certain amount of overtime into its budget each year, but exceeds that amount each year. Padilla said the estimated overtime is purposely lower than anticipated so the funds aren’t easily spent.
Police officer union contracts also play a role in overtime costs. Officers are limited to work no more than 16 hours in a 24-hour period and must have eight hours off between shifts. Officers are scheduled to work four 10-hour shifts with three days off. But some officers end up working their off days as well.
Padilla said some officers seek more overtime shifts while others do not.
“In my generation of law enforcement, when you were young you worked a lot of overtime to supplement income,” he said. “With this generation they are less apt to give up their days off, but I think that’s a good thing. They are more guarded about their time off. But hours of work have to go somewhere, so the challenge is for command staff to make sure everyone’s doing their share of overtime.”
Kent Police overtime payments
2019: $2.8 million (estimated)
2018: $2.6 million
2017: $2.4 million
2016: $2.2 million
2015: $2.1 million
2014: $1.9 million
Source: city of Kent