Police department spent budget-busting $22 million on overtime last year

New leaders say they are looking at getting the system under control.
New leaders say they are looking at getting the system under control.

Editor's Note: On Friday, Oct. 3 Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole expanded her request for a review of overtime spending in SPD's Education and Training Section to include a review of all overtime spending in 2013 and 2014.

The Seattle Police Department exceeded its overtime budget last year by over $7 million.

With only about $14.4 million allotted for overtime in 2013, the department paid out nearly $22 million. While that level of spending in itself does not indicate any abuse or unjustified earnings, it has raised questions about the department's financial management. The expenditure is substantial when considered within the city's overall police budget. The roughly $22 million sum would be enough to pay the regular annual salaries of more than 200 fully trained patrol officers, or to fund operations in the South Precinct for a full year. Even the roughly $7.5 million overrun would pay base salaries for 77 patrol officers.

Last week, the Office of Professional Accountability, which carries out misconduct investigations, issued a report identifying over $1 million of excessive overtime payments within the department's Education and Training Section. The report did not find that any officers had engaged in wrongdoing and pointed instead to longstanding organizational problems with overtime practices at the department. Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole responded by calling for the Office of the City Auditor to conduct an audit of the training unit.

Police officials are also taking a closer look at department-wide overtime payments and policies. 

"My concern has been to ensure that there's no systemic failure going forward," the department's chief operating officer, Mike Wagers, said in a phone interview yesterday. Appointed recently by O'Toole, Wagers is spearheading a number of major technology projects, as well as efforts to make the department more data-driven and better managed.

Asked if it was possible that any of the overtime payments were illegitimate, he said: "We're going to take a look at it; I just don't have a response to that right now."

"My assumption is that the officers that are earning overtime," Wagers added, "are doing so legitimately until we see some sort of red flag."

Crosscut obtained records through a public disclosure request, showing 2013 overtime payments for 1,650 department employees. The payments ranged from $10 to $82,465 and totaled $21,939,649. Eight individuals received more than $70,000 in overtime pay during the year.

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