Boston police reduced July through late September overtime hours by 14.6 percent over the same period last year, but deeper cuts are needed if the department is to meet the reduced overtime levels called for in the annual city budget, officials said Monday.
“We’re not on track to hit that right now,” said Councilor Kenzie Bok during a virtual meeting of the City Council’s ways and means committee, which Bok chairs.
The council over the summer passed an operating budget that took a $12 million bite out of the Boston Police Department’s overtime budget amid calls for significant reform. At the time, Mayor Martin J. Walsh said the budget, which included the reallocation of police overtime funding, “makes significant investments in new community-led programs, and that takes bold steps toward our pledge of creating a more just and equitable society.”
In the aftermath of the budget vote, councilors said they want to see structural changes to make the overtime reduction a reality, since police overtime is one of the few line items in the operating budget that is allowed to exceed its allotment, as it did for the last fiscal year, which ended in June.
That means the department actually needs to save $24.5 million compared to what it doled out last year to meet the budgeted level of $48 million in police overtime costs this year. Bok said a 14.6 percent reduction in overtime costs would mean the department would be on track for $10.5 million in savings, well below the $24.5 million figure.
“The commitment in the last budget cycle to realize a percentage of savings, based on what I’m hearing today, doesn’t look like we’re actually going to actualize that commitment,” said Councilor Andrea Campbell. “Which I think is concerning.”
Councilor Matt O’Malley said it was made abundantly clear through the budget process that the city needed to get overtime costs under control.
“For that to actually become a reality, we need to stay on top of it,” said O’Malley.
Boston police Superintendent James Hasson said the department is committed to officer and public safety and indicated that the department had a “pretty comprehensive plan” to reduce overtime, but that because of an increase in crime, demonstrations, feared unrest tied to the presidential election, and the COVID-19 pandemic, “we’ve been unable to implement that.”
“The residents of Boston, they depend on us," he said. "When they call 9-1-1, they have an expectation we’re going to be coming.”
Earlier this year, department officials told city councilors that, on average, 94 positions are back-filled each day to replace officers who are out and still meet mandatory minimum staffing levels, which is a major factor that drives overtime costs.
Replacement costs topped $25 million last year, and more than two-thirds of that involved officers who were filling in for others who were injured, sick, or on vacation, according to authorities. Such costs remain “relatively flat,” compared to last year, accounting for almost 44 percent of total overtime costs, according to reports from Boston police given to the City Council before Monday’s meeting.
According to department reports given to councilors, Boston police have continued “to face the challenge in which our turnover of injured officers has been as frequent of those returning to work due to the increase in demand for full staffing levels and extended hours, coupled with the impact of COVID-19.”
For this fiscal year, the department is projecting 156 retirements from the force. A new class of 110 recruits will start at the end of the month, with the expectation the class will yield 100 new police officers. Another class of 60 recruits is planned next spring, and 50 new officers are expected to emerge from that class.
Monday’s discussion followed months of intense council debate regarding Boston police overtime. The subject was at the heart of a contentious operating budget vote earlier in the summer. Walsh, in a resubmitted budget proposal that came amid widespread demonstrations protesting police brutality, called for reallocating $12 million from Boston police overtime spending to social services and community programs.
For some councilors, however, the rerouting of the $12 million in overtime spending did not do enough work toward dismantling structural racism. In a contentious vote, the council passed the $3.61 billion operating budget, 8-5.
Danny McDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.