With city authorities looking to rein in Boston police overtime costs, department brass told lawmakers Monday that they could not guarantee the desired savings in next fiscal year’s budget because injuries to officers — which require overtime shifts to fill — cannot be predicted.
Boston police chronically exceed their annual overtime budget. During a virtual budget hearing on Monday, Boston City Council members pressed for tangible and structural ways for the department, which has been hit hard by COVID-19, to curb spending. Acting Mayor Kim Janey’s $3.75 billion operating budget includes a projected $22 million cut to police overtime, or roughly a one-third reduction of what is estimated to be spent on overtime this year.
“It just seems to me we have to have some sort of formula or analysis to think that we are going to” cut by that much, said Councilor Kenzie Bok, chairwoman of the council’s ways and means committee.
“There is no formula because we can’t anticipate future injuries; that’s the problem,” replied Boston Police Superintendent James Hasson. “We are getting people back to work on a consistent basis.”
Janey’s budget proposal includes $500,000 to expand a medical triage unit, adding more clinicians to get more injured officers back to work faster. Hasson hoped such a move would prove to be effective.
But, he added, “I can’t guarantee anything.”
Acting Commissioner Gregory Long, who is serving as the city’s top cop while Commissioner Dennis White is on leave amid an investigation into a 1999 domestic abuse allegation, said that if roughly 100 currently injured officers returned in the next fiscal year, it would help the department reduce overtime.
Police officials told councilors on Monday that more than 300 officers had tested positive for COVID-19 during the pandemic and more than 1,000 had to quarantine because of their exposure to the virus, realities that spiked overtime costs. The department has more than 2,000 sworn officers.
City Councilor Andrea Campbell was among those to push for more specifics, citing that the department blew past its budget allotment for overtime this year, rendering moot a $12 million overtime cut made in the budget. (Police overtime is one of the few line items in the city budget that is allowed to exceed its approved allotment.)
“I definitely am not optimistic that we are going to reach those savings, if we weren’t able to do it last year,” said Campbell.
More than 30 Boston police officers made more than $300,000 last year, thanks in part to overtime earnings, according to city data. Overall, 509 Boston officers made more than $200,000 last year.
Lisa O’Brien, the Police Department’s finance director, said overtime costs are down 10 percent compared to the same time last year, noting that this year’s spending included $16 million for the response to unforeseen events, such as mass demonstrations.
More resources were also dedicated to the area known as Mass. and Cass, which historically has been the epicenter of the city’s opioid crisis, prompting overtime costs to increase. O’Brien also cited the cost of backfilling shifts left vacant by cops who are out, including those who are sick or on injured leave.
Councilor Michael Flaherty thought the force, which is the nation’s oldest, needed to hire more cops to offset retirements.
“Everywhere I go, and as a citywide councilor I get calls and e-mails from across the city all the time that they want to see more police officers, not less police officers,” he said.
Other councilors had similar thoughts, with Ed Flynn and Frank Baker saying that hundreds more officers needed to be hired.
Long said the department’s academy classes for next year are slated to have 250 recruits.
In other business, Long said an internal investigation into whether one of the department’s officers took part in a January rally and ensuing siege on the US Capitol is expected to be completed “in the next couple weeks.” Earlier this year, the department said it was examining social media posts in which the person who is alleged to be a Boston police officer threatened then-vice president Mike Pence. Long said he was disgusted by the insurrection at the Capitol.
“I can promise you if for one second I thought an officer on the Boston Police Department had participated in that, they would not be a Boston police officer today,” said Long.
Department officials also confirmed that there is an ongoing internal investigation into Clifton McHale, a Boston police sergeant who became mired in controversy last year over video footage showing him bragging about intentionally striking protesters with his vehicle. McHale is currently confined to administrative desk duty, meaning he is not out on patrol, according to the department.
The hearing came as the Boston Police Department has been buffeted by scandal in recent months. A report from the investigation into White, the acting commissioner on leave, has been delivered to City Hall but Janey has yet to make any decision regarding his future. White was never charged with a crime, and in court records at the time he denied the allegations, which included hitting his wife once and sleeping with a gun under his pillow.
Additionally, a recent Globe investigation revealed the department determined in 1995 that Patrick M. Rose Sr., the onetime president of the city’s powerful patrolmen’s union, had more than likely molested a 12-year-old child. The department had repeatedly refused to release the case files or discuss why Rose, who is now charged with sexually abusing five additional children, continued as a patrolman and had access to children. Rose has pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing through his lawyer.