Category Archives: Public Safety

Cutting the City’s Billion Dollar Spending on Overtime May be Easier Said than Done

Posted by Doug Turetsky, October 4, 2012

With the Mayor asking city agencies to come up with $2.0 billion in proposed budget cuts for the next year and a half, one area that could come under scrutiny is overtime spending. In fiscal year 2012, which ended June 30, the city spent about $280 million more on overtime pay than it did five years ago.

Somewhat surprisingly, at least in recent years, the growth in overtime spending bears little relation to changes in the size of the city’s workforce. Over the past five years, the number of full-time city workers has waxed and waned with the ups and downs of the local economy. In fiscal year 2007, there were 270,839 municipal workers as of June 30, 2007. A year later, there were 280,649. By June 30, 2012, the number was 270,795 (the June 2012 projection by the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget), virtually the same as in 2007. Still, over those five years citywide overtime spending climbed steadily: from $989 million to nearly $1.3 billion.

About two-thirds of all overtime spending is generated by just a handful of agencies, the so-called uniformed forces: the police, fire, correction, and sanitation departments. Uniformed workers in these agencies collected $933.6 million in overtime pay last year.

Likewise, virtually all the growth in overtime spending has occurred among these same agencies. Since 2007, overtime spending by all city agencies on “civilian” employees (including civilian employees within the uniformed forces) grew by a modest $3.9 million, with some agencies spending more and others less.

There are a variety of factors that can drive overtime spending, some of which are unique to particular agencies and not entirely under the agencies’ control. The police department is responsible for the biggest share of the city’s overtime costs—$519.1 million for uniformed officers in 2012. This overtime is the result of a number of factors ranging from arrests and time spent in court to ongoing investigations to unplanned events (for example, Occupy Wall Street, presidential visits, one-time concerts) and planned events (such as annual street fairs, walkathons, and parades). See “IBO’s Police Overtime: Tracking the Big Growth in Spending” for more on types of police overtime spending.

Snowfall can cause sanitation department overtime to pile up. In 2011, more than 61 inches of snow fell on the city and sanitation workers earned $62.4 million in overtime pay to clean it up. Last winter, with less than 7 inches of snow, snow-related overtime melted to a modest $7.2 million.

Declining staff levels at an agency can lead to rising overtime costs. With hiring on hold at the fire department due to a discrimination lawsuit, overtime has soared. As retirees were not replaced, firefighter staffing fell from 11,459 in 2009 to 10,260 in 2012 and overtime spending grew from $127.6 million to $230.8 million over the same period. Despite the falloff in the number of firefighters, fire houses still have to be staffed around the clock to provide a constant level of services. With the judge on the lawsuit now allowing the city to hire more firefighters, the department’s overtime spending should decline as new recruits graduate from the fire academy.

While the fire department used increased overtime spending in order to maintain services in the face of diminished staffing, the parks department cut staffing and increased overtime spending to achieve overall budget savings—savings that may also affect the level of services delivered. Parks department full-time staffing fell by about 430 in 2012 to 2,920, while overtime spending increased by $1.2 million to $8.7 million. That’s about $2,700 in additional overtime spending for each staff member lost, an amount well below the cost of salary and benefits for a full-time employee. Of course, that doesn’t mean all the work done by the former staff members is being accomplished on overtime—budget savings by cutting personnel may also be accompanied by service declines.

Conversely, even when staffing levels rise, agency overtime spending may increase. Civilian full-time staffing grew by about 300 last year at the Department of Correction, but overtime spending jumped by nearly $5.0 million to $11.7 million.

With a tab of more than $1 billion a year, overtime spending appears to be a ripe target for budget cutting. But given the different factors driving this spending, hitting those targets may take some careful aim.

It’s Not Just OWS: How Wind, Snow, and the Red Sox Drive Police Overtime Spending

Recent reports that the first month of the Occupy Wall Street protests cost the city $3.4 million in police overtime no doubt led to some raised eyebrows. While a substantial sum, it equals just a fraction of police overtime spending in recent years.

In fiscal year 2011, which ended on June 30, police overtime totaled $549.5 million. And it has been climbing steadily. Just looking at the prior five years, spending on police overtime grew from $412.0 million in 2006 to $538.4 million in 2010, according to numbers assembled by IBO’s Bernard O’Brien. Some portion of the increase is probably a reflection of wage growth during the five years, not just more overtime hours.

The New York Police Department categorizes part of its overtime spending in terms of planned and unplanned events. Planned events, meaning the event has occurred annually for at least three consecutive years, include goings-on such as the New York City Marathon ($2.3 million in police overtime last year), the Thanksgiving Day Parade ($192,763), and the Steinway Street Festival ($3,474).

Not surprisingly, Occupy Wall Street falls under the category of unplanned events. And there are a lot of them each year, some stemming from acts of nature, others very much manmade. The tornados that swept Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island in September 2010 caused $318,407 in police overtime. Last December’s blizzard dumped $1.6 million in overtime costs on the city. The snowstorms that followed in January piled on another $883,721.

Baseball games are events of our own making that can also mean police overtime, especially when the Red Sox come here to play the Yankees. The two teams squared off in the Bronx in August and September last year, generating headlines and $410,948 in police overtime spending. And that doesn’t include the playoffs against the Twins last October, which knocked in $305,045 more in police overtime. (The Mets, it seems, simply don’t ignite the same passion—or extend their season long enough—to warrant added overtime.)

Presidential visits, international events, and Mayoral initiatives also can boost the city’s police overtime bill. Last fiscal year, President Obama visited the city seven times, resulting in $2.4 million in overtime for the local police force. When Osama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALS in Pakistan in May, it triggered $773,981 overtime for extra security in the city. Mayor Bloomberg’s Summer Streets initiative, which opens seven miles of streets for walking, biking, and playing on three consecutive Saturdays in August, cost $709,358 in 2010.

With all the events, planned and unplanned, that occur in the city, the need for police overtime might seem like a given—especially as the number of officers declines. Since 2006 the number of police officers has dropped by nearly 2,000 to 33,777 at the end of last fiscal year.

If recent history is any guide, size of the force isn’t all that matters when it comes to police overtime. For example, in the two fiscal years prior to 9/11, police staffing hit all time highs, yet police overtime spending continued to rise. Then, in the aftermath of 9/11, antiterrorism efforts multiplied while the number of officers began to decline. Yet overtime spending, excluding costs stemming from 9/11) leveled off (see IBO’s Police Overtime: Tracking the Big Growth in Spending for more details).

While the cost of police overtime seems to follow its own laws of gravity, it’s likely that we’ll see substantial overtime costs for Occupy Wall Street and other goings-on around town for some time.

Despite Cut in Capital Spending, Mayor Plans to Build a New Jail, Renovate Others

Posted by Nashla Salas, June 15, 2011

Tough fiscal times have led the Mayor to propose a 20 percent reduction in planned city capital spending. That means less money for affordable housing construction, building new schools, or rehabbing city parks. Because of this, some New Yorkers may be surprised to learn that the Bloomberg Administration is still planning to commit more than $620 million in 2011 through 2015 to the construction of a new jail on Rikers Island, the renovation of jails in Brooklyn and Queens, and the closing of other facilities. What may make this even more surprising is that when the changes are complete, the system will have less capacity than it does now.

While the jail proposal has also been cut back—by nearly $115 million or 16 percent in the May 2011 Capital Commitment Plan compared with the September 2010 plan —some may question the need for it at all. Part of what’s driving the initiative is dilapidated conditions. Some of the structures being used on Rikers were only meant to be temporary. Another reason is to reverse a Giuliani Administration initiative that closed the jails near the borough courthouses and placed all inmates on Rikers Island. That proved to be a costly decision, ratcheting up overtime and other expenses in order to transport inmates to court dates.

As a result, the Department of Correction is going ahead with a jail renovation initiative which includes the construction of a new 1,500 bed jail on Rikers Island and reopening detention facilities in Brooklyn and Queens, in conjunction with reductions in the capacity of a number of other facilities. Because the initiative would remove more beds than are being added from the new construction, the city’s overall jail capacity would be reduced by nearly 3,000 beds.

Prior to the implementation of the renovation plan, the city’s jail capacity totaled about 19,400 beds, including 16,400 in Rikers Island-based jails and a total of 3,000 in four facilities in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and the Bronx. When the renovation plan is finished, capacity will stand at about 16,550.The planned overall reduction would bring capacity more in line with the jail population, which has decreased from a daily average of more than 14,500 in 2003, the peak over the past decade, to 13,362 last year.

The largest project in the plan to renovate Rikers Island is a new 1,500-bed jail at a cost of about $563 million. Also included is a new 800-bed annex to the Rose M. Singer Center ($4.4 million), which is set to open in the next two months. This facility houses detained and sentenced female adults and adolescents. The new beds will partially offset the reduction of thousands of older beds at the 10 current Rikers jails. Many of the older units were meant to be temporary, have been costly to maintain and are overdue for closure. One of the oldest facilities, the 1,194 bed James A. Thomas Center, has already been closed.

While all the capacity changes will occur in the Rikers Island facilities, the plan also calls for reopening jails in Brooklyn and Queens which have not housed inmates since 2003 and 2002, respectively, although their beds were still counted in the system’s capacity. Improvements to the Queens facility total about $550,000 in elevator replacement work. Renovation of the Brooklyn House of Detention will cost $3 million, but a previous proposal to increase its capacity has been dropped. It is expected that the Brooklyn House of Detention will reopen by the fall and the Queens House of Detention will be reopened in the spring of 2012.

While the Rikers Island renovations have drawn little public attention, there have been mixed reactions to the plans to reopen the Brooklyn and Queens facilities. Advocates and families of those arrested have complained of the inaccessibility of Rikers Island and prefer that inmates be housed in borough facilities near their homes. On the other hand, residents near the Brooklyn facility have in the past complained that reopening a jail in their neighborhood will stifle development.