News from Patrick Flynn

Cops & budgets

During Tuesday’s debate on a series of budget amendments offered by my new favorite Assembly member, Bill Starr, discussions about the Police Department proved most interesting to me. One of the amendments would have cut $1,025,000 from APD’s budget with Mr. Starr reasoning that our addition of officers should result in reduced overtime but, instead, overtime costs have instead been rising. The flaw in that logic is that the Assembly passes a budget while departments retain the flexibility for intradepartmental allocation, meaning a decrement to “overtime” is essentially an unallocated cut.

Still, APD’s overtime costs are pretty high – around 6% of the department’s roughly $96 million budget. For budget watchers about $84 million of that is in the General Government Operating budget, meaning it’s paid by property taxes, while the remainder comes from various state and federal grants (think DUI or seat belt enforcement campaigns). Given that, we invited APD Chief Rob Huen to comment on the proposed amendment. Unsurprisingly, he opposed the change but I gleaned a few nuggets about police overtime – and why additional officers don’t tend to decrease overtime, they actually increase it – that readers might find interesting:

  • APD has three shifts; days, nights & swing. If a night or swing shift officer needs to appear in court, as they often do, that work takes place on overtime. More cops catching more criminals mean more court dates, hence more overtime.
  • More cops also means more reports, more evidence cataloging and other administrative functions. While we’ve grown the number of sworn officers in recent years, the non-sworn employee ranks have lagged, thus creating the need for those folks to work overtime to handle the added workload created by our new cops.
  • The aforementioned grant monies pay for cops to work overtime (beyond their regular duties) to perform those functions. Translation: more grants = more overtime, and I’ve yet to see the Assembly refuse a grant aimed at increasing law enforcement. The good news is that those grants also pay for the benefits associated with the overtime, like increased retirement funds.

While the Assembly ultimately rejected Mr. Starr’s amendment the debate signaled some potential problems with Assembly ratification of the new police contract, which is scheduled for a vote on December 16. First, several Assembly members are frustrated that the contract maintains the stipulation awarding discretionary overtime based on seniority, which means that cops with the highest hourly wages get first crack and consequently can accumulate some eye-popping annual wages. (Brief aside here: discretionary overtime refers to overtime related to things like the aforementioned grant-driven programs. Non-discretionary overtime refers to things like court time and response by specialized officers like homicide detectives, sexual assault teams, SWAT and the like.) There were clear statements that Assembly members wanted to see some effort to craft a different method for allocating discretionary overtime, something that would allow lower wage officers to provide more of the overtime service, but I do not believe that is part of the proposed contract.

Second, and this was not discussed but will be next week if Dan Coffey offers his drafted budget amendment, is a provision in the proposed contract that allows a city-paid officer to work full time as president of the police union. Having worked with represented employees and their union officers for many years I am cognizant of the challenges associated with serving as a union leader. That said, I have some heartburn with using taxpayer dollars to pay someone to advocate full-time for an employee group. At my day job union officers can take leave to perform work on behalf of their members but their wages are paid out of union dues, thereby affording the membership the right to determine how much representation they’re willing to pay for. To me, that seems a more appropriate arrangement.

Anchorage is fortunate to have an excellent police force and, as Chief Huen pointed out, the officers added over the past several years are making a positive impact. The chief further noted that homicides, sexual assaults and traffic fatalities are all down considerably, and APD is part of a community-wide effort that has been effectively addressing gang violence. I believe the vast majority of Anchorage residents are willing to pay for this security but they want to ensure we’re using those dollars in the most cost-effective manner and that will be the crux of this conversation over the next month. Stay tuned – it’ll be interesting!



This contribution was made on Wednesday, 19. November 2008 at 18:15 and was published under the category Coming events. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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