City Council Holds Lengthy Hearing on Police Overtime

The City Council Committee on Ways and Means held a lengthy hearing on July 28 regarding Boston Police Department (BPD) overtime, after which many councilors still had many questions regarding different aspects of the BPD structure and overtime.

Committee Chair Kenzie Bok assured the councilors and the public that these questions will be part of an extensive follow-up with the appropriate departments.

The City Council voted to pass the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2021 in June, which calls for the reallocation of $12 million in police overtime. Bok said she believes it’s the Council’s “responsibility” to ensure that the administration follows through and realizes this savings.

Councilor Andrea Campbell started by saying she would have liked to see even more money removed from the police budget, and stated that she has seen an “uptick in homicides and stabbings” in her district of Dorchester and Mattapan. She said that she has heard conversations in the community that the lowering of the overtime budget is leading to less police officers out in the community.

“I’m not going to buy into that narrative,” she said.

BPD director of finance Lisa O’Brien, Superintendent Jim Hasson, and the City’s Budget Director, Justin Sterritt, were on hand to provide a brief presentation as well as answer questions from the Council.

O’Brien explained that replacement and extended tours comprise 67.6 percent of the total overtime costs for FY2020, and using overtime for replacement personnel is non-discretionary as minimum staffing levels need to be maintained in the district. She said that this year they had thought overtime costs would be lower due to the cancellation of so many public events, but due to the pandemic and the recent demonstrations it ended up being higher.

Hasson said that the number of calls to service, the population of an area, and land mass is used to determine how many officers are needed in a particular area at minimum to provide “adequate” services.

  According to a slide presented by the BPD, reforms that are under review to reduce replacement costs for overtime include “evaluate staffing levels in all units to determine if resources need to be redirected; tighter controls on Work In/Work Out, body for body policy implementation; and long term: civilians to replace administrative positions currently being filled by 80 to 100 sworn personnel.”

Other reform measures include reducing extended tours and more support for injured officers so they can get the help they need while still returning to work in a timely manner.

Hasson said negotiations will need to be had with unions to determine which roles could be transferred over to civilians in order to direct officers towards other duties that don’t necessarily require police intervention.

“We should be able to know what reassignments the Commissioner has the right to do without further bargaining,” Bok said.

Councilor Campbell called the fact that officers have said in communities that there are less officers due to budget reductions “extremely troubling.”

Hasson said that officers need to fill cars that are assigned to specific districts and make sure each shift is balanced.

When questioned about a central plan versus a district plan for reducing the overtime budget, Hassan said the two are working together. “They’ve been told there’s a reduction in overtime,” Hassan said of the districts,” but “right now, they’re struggling to maintain the minimum manning.”

O’Brien said that she prepares an overtime report every other week in collaboration with police chiefs. “Every district, every specialized unit has an allotment for budgetary hours, for overtime,” she said. The goal is to figure out what that looks like with the reduction implemented.

Aside from figuring out which positions could be filled by civilians without collective bargaining, Councilor Campbell said she wants to see which ones would require collective bargaining, but could still be attainable. She said this would free up some officers to offer more coverage to districts that may need it.

Hasson said that 90 hours is the maximum number of hours with overtime, details, and working hours that officers can work. He said the midnight shift tends to have fewer service calls and therefore fewer officers, but other shifts have higher demand at certain times of the day. For example, the 4pm to midnight shift has the highest demand in some districts versus after midnight, while the A1 district downtown has the highest demand during the day.

Councilor Ed Flynn mentioned that many community and neighborhood organizations in the City like to hear updates from Community Service Officers about crime and happenings in the neighborhood and to voice their concerns about certain issues.

“They ask for police presence in certain areas,” Flynn said. “I think we need to make sure we have enough money in the budget to address overtime issues.” He said he would support finding “different revenue options,” as he feels the police “play a critical role” in “working with residents on public safety and quality of life issues.”

Councilor Ricardo Arroyo asked whether the decentralization of officers from specialized units like the bike or fugitive units could happen, as it would provide more officers for the regular community beats and cut down on overtime costs.

Councilor Michael Flaherty said that chiropractic services need to be put on the “formulary” to get officers back on the job more quickly. Hasson said that approximately three officers per shift from every district every day are out sick or injured.

“Between demonstrations and COVID,” Hasson said, the department has “seen a huge increases in absences.”

Pam Kocher, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, said that the $12 million shifted away from the police department towards other investments in the community “reduces demands on BPS to address non-public safety issues.”

She said that people will continue to rely on the police and call them for non-police needs for some time, but she said that those needs should be shifted “as quickly as possible to other departments. Residents need help to make that shift, and it will take some time” to help them understand where they need to direct requests for resources depending on the situation.

Councilor Bok said that her “biggest concern about the conversation today” is that “we are really not looking at a plan yet about ‘this is what we’re saving.’ What is the plan for monitoring benchmarks and making sure that we’re kind of making progress towards saving this nearly $25 million?”

Budget Director Justin Sterritt said that the budget department is “working with the BPD constantly to track the hours versus what we have planned for.” He said that moving forward, tracking will require “constant adjustment on a weekly basis” to adapt to the lower overtime budget.

He also said that a lot of the calls that BPD receives, such as calls related to parks, towing cars, transportation, and more, can be directed to other agencies and the City can work with partners to address this.

The need for more officers may be helped through a police class that will be offered this fall, and another in the spring, which could “bolster the number of officers sooner rather than later” which could help with the overtime costs, he said.

He also said that the City working with BPD through health insurance and human resources departments on officers returning to work is “one of the ways to make the soonest impact.”

Councilor Campbell said she was “frustrated” during the hearing, adding that she wants to ensure the reduction in the police budget is sustainable year after year.

“Right now, it’s important that we have specifics,” she said. “We have listed a whole bunch of strategies to realize this $25 million. The question remains is ‘which strategy are we going to adopt?’”

She said that some of the solutions could take years to implement, and she looks forward to “continued conversations” on this topic as well as getting more specifics from follow up with the BPD.

“I do really appreciate all the work thats gone into this, and I think to Superintendent Hasson’s point, I do see a lot of strategies here on the table,” Bok said. “I just think that the Council and this committee specifically is going to continue to be really focused on the question of ‘how do those things come together to actually result in these savings?’…what are the broader questions about how we police?”

She continued, “The more that we can focus our law enforcement resources on the really critical law enforcement priorities, and away from some of the stuff that undermines trust in our community. I think there’s an opportunity here thats driven by a fiscal question but can also turn into more of a policy question.”

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