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Seattle sports are driving up SPD’s overtime bill

Kathleen O'Toole Credit: Allyce Andrew

Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole has asked the city auditor to expand a review of Seattle Police Department overtime to include all 2013 and 2014 expenditures.

The announcement of the expanded review came Friday, just a day after Crosscut reported that the police department exceeded its overtime budget in 2013 by more than $7 million. Following a critical Office of Professional Accountability review of overtime practices in the department's Education and Training Section issued on Sept. 26, O'Toole had asked the city auditor to audit overtime spending in that unit. She had also called for a preliminary review of 2014 department-wide overtime.

The broadened scope of the review comes as O'Toole, who was inaugurated in June, and top members of her staff, continue to emphasize the importance of better business practices and data-driven decision making at the department.

Although the review will look at a wide range of factors, data obtained by Crosscut shows that special events, such as sports games and parades, are one significant driver of the department's overtime costs. Those costs totaled just over $6.3 million last year, which equates to roughly 29 percent of the police department's nearly $22 million in 2013 overtime spending. Department staff worked 94,817 overtime hours at special events.

Seattle Mariners games were the priciest single type of event last year in terms of police overtime. Department employees worked 15,053 extra hours staffing the games for a cost of $987,078, according to police department data.

Seahawks and Sounders games were the next biggest individual event-related overtime expenditure, totaling a combined $852,993. And the combined cost of parades and street fairs resulted in $1.3 million of overtime spending.

The smallest expenditure was $66 to pay for one hour of overtime staffing at an event last January, where Orca K-8 School students marched in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

Organizations holding special events in Seattle pay a permit fee to help cover related city expenses. The city's Office of Economic Development, which administers the permits, collected a total of $624,005 in fee revenues last year, according to the Mayor's Office. The fees are deposited into the city's general fund.

Mayor Ed Murray is proposing a review in 2015 of the special events cost structure and fee policy, his press secretary, Jason Kelly, said last week.

Police special events overtime 2013


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Clicking on each rectangle in this chart will show overtime hours and expenditures in 2013 for each corresponding special event. Source: SPD

A 2011 City Council staff memo discussed the merits of paying cops to work extra hours versus hiring new officers.

The staffer who wrote the memo concluded that when factoring in items such as benefits, paid time off and recruits, the cost of hiring a new officer was about 8 percent more expensive per working hour than paying an existing one overtime. The price tag for a regular working hour was $68.57, while an overtime hour was $63.67, or $4.89 less expensive.

Also noted is that, at that time, the department had exceeded its overtime budget every year, but one, since 1993.

"One easily could get the idea from public discussions of police staffing and overtime that staffing is good and overtime is bad," the memo states. "A public official who hires more police officers and reduces police overtime would be a hero."

It also points out that a broad review, similar to the one O'Toole has now launched, "might yield opportunities for reducing overtime without reducing productivity, or validate that overtime is being used effectively and saving money, or some of each."

Mayor Ed Murray has said that he wants to add 100 new officers to the police force by the end of his term.

City Council President Tim Burgess has warned that he does not support expanding the force until outside assessments of officer deployment and department management are complete.

Bruce Harrell, who chairs the Council committee that oversees public safety, backs those assessments, but is also in favor of hiring new officers before the assessments are finished. Harrell has also suggested that it might be time for a closer look at overtime in other city departments, though he has not put forward any specific proposals.

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