For some Boston officers, extra money comes easy
A Boston police detective made more than four times his base salary last year, increasing his pay through a contract provision that allowed him to receive roughly four months of overtime for hours he didn’t work, records show.
Boston Police Detective Waiman Lee, a 34-year department veteran in the domestic violence unit, took home about $403,000 in 2016, making him the highest paid city employee last year, according to payroll records. His base salary was $92,515.
In what critics call an extreme example of a systemic problem, Lee bolstered his wages thanks to police union contracts that require that officers who work detail shifts or testify in court be paid a minimum of four hours, even if the assignment lasts only 30 minutes.
Last year, Lee earned $58,600 by working more than 1,100 hours of overtime, according to a Globe review of police payroll records. Records show that Lee did not work 674 of those hours — more than 16 40-hour weeks — yet received time-and-a-half pay.
Most of Lee’s overtime pay stemmed from court appearances that typically lasted no more than an hour, the Globe found. He was also paid for 2,771 hours for detail shifts, including 861 unworked hours. That allowed him to make close to $130,000, a sum that did not include his overtime pay.
“It’s a generous system,” said Sam Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a fiscal watchdog group. “You’re paid for hours you don’t work. It isn’t a new issue, but it’s one that really does need stricter focus and management to control those costs.”
Lee declined to comment about his wages Tuesday. Union leaders with the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association and the Boston Police Detectives Benevolent Society did not respond to requests for comment.
Details about Lee’s wages were obtained through a public records request, which showed that some of the department’s highest paid and top overtime earners benefit immensely from contract requirements that allow overtime for unworked hours. Officers can work up to 90 hours a week.
The Globe reviewed the salary records of 10 officers who were among the highest overtime earners, and 10 additional officers who were the highest paid. Overall, the Police Department paid nearly $60 million in overtime in the 2016 fiscal year.
Lieutenant Detective Michael McCarthy, a department spokesman, said the four-hour requirement “is a contractual obligation that was bargained for between the city and the police unions over 20 years ago.”
“Officers are permitted under their current collective bargaining agreements to work additional assignments once they are relieved from their court obligation,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy said the department regularly audits officers’ time records to ensure compliance with internal rules and procedures, and has not found any violations recently.
The generous contract provision demonstrates the union’s ability, over the years, to demand and win favorable terms in contract negotiations, observers say.
“Boston police have historically earned some of the highest salaries in the country,” said Thomas Nolan, a former Boston police officer who is now a criminology professor at Merrimack College in North Andover. “There has been a history of the police obtaining [contracts] and being very successful at the bargaining table.”
The department has faced questions on overtime pay before. A 2012 Globe review of officers in the drug unit found a pattern of overtime abuse by officers who were showing up to court when they were not needed. Ten officers were disciplined that year for collecting undeserved overtime pay.
A year earlier, the department conducted an internal audit that examined hundreds of cases in three courthouses around the city. The review found as many as 350 instances of questionable court overtime filings by drug unit officers, and recommended a centralized electronic subpoena system that would monitor court appearances in real time. A change in the use of court overtime slips — a record of the overtime an officer worked that day — took effect immediately.
Still, last year, the department paid $7.7 million in court overtime alone, down slightly from $8.6 million in 2011.
Of the 20 officers whose pay or overtime ranked among the highest the Globe reviewed, utility and construction companies paid an additional $630,000 to 10 of the officers for detail shifts, department records show. Some of those companies included utilities such as Eversource, which paid roughly $4 million in Boston police details in 2016, a cost added to the bills of its customers, a company spokesman said.
Public and private companies hire police officers for details, which are shifts in which officers direct traffic or provide security at construction sites or near roadwork. For construction and utility details that last more than four hours, the officer is paid for a minimum of eight hours, and then hourly after that, McCarthy said. For nonconstruction details that run beyond six hours, the officer is paid for a minimum of eight hours, followed by an hourly rate, he said.
Massachusetts became one of the last states in the country to allow civilian flaggers — rather than police officers — to work at construction sites in 2008. Two years later, the Globe reported tension between the Boston Police Department and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation over the use of civilian flaggers at city construction sites overseen by the state.