SCHENECTADY The two busiest police officers on patrol worked an average of 60 hours a week, every week, last year as overtime costs crept upward.
According to the city’s list of highest-paid city employees, police officers spent far more time at work than they have in recent years. The city will not release its total overtime spending for another month, but it’s clear those costs have gone up significantly.
Still, it’s not as bad as in 2008, when the busiest officers were working an average of 90 hours a week. That year, the police department overspent its overtime budget by 20 percent.
At that time, then-Mayor Brian U. Stratton said the high level of overtime could hurt officers’ ability to stop crime. He said patrol officers might be too tired to make the right judgment calls when they needed to make a split-second decision.
First number is base salary; second number is actual pay earned
Police Evidence Technician John Ericson, $66,345, $149,429
Assistant Police Chief Michael Seber, $123,816, $149,182
Assistant Police Chief Jack Falvo, $123,816, $146,853
Police Lieutenant Eric Clifford, $80,070, $141,615
Police Lieutenant Mark McCracken, $80,070, $140,260
Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett, $124,432, $138,173
Police Sgt. Patrick Morris, $71,899, $136,624
Police Evidence Technician Thomas Adach, $66,345, $127,804
Police Evidence Technician Jeremy Pace, $66,345, $125,202
Fire Chief Michael Della Rocco, $129,933, $124,582
Source: City payroll records
Shortly afterward, the top-working officer, Dwayne Johnson, was discovered spending some of his work hours in an apartment instead of patrolling. Then city officials cracked down on extreme overtime.
For two years, they maintained a tight grip, with the busiest patrol officers working no more than two extra shifts a week. But in 2011, several officers retired unexpectedly and others were fired, leaving the police department understaffed.
Two patrol officers ended up working, on average, an extra 20 hours each week — the equivalent of a 60-hour week, every week of the year. Officers Peter Mullen and Sean Clifford earned an extra $52,000 for their work, costing the city as much as it would have to hire one officer and pay all the associated benefits. Between the two, they worked 41 extra hours a week.
Five other officers averaged 13 to 19 extra hours a week, roughly the same as in 2010.
Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said he would prefer to hire new officers, but said 60-hour workweeks aren’t as dangerous as the 90-hour weeks officers used to work.
“I’m not worried about fatigue at that level,” he said, noting that it was the equivalent of 12-hour days. Many law enforcement agencies have 12-hour work days — and their officers also work overtime.
Bennett added that he thinks the city will spend less money on overtime this year because the department has hired new officers.
“I think you’re going to see things change back,” he said. “Obviously, management’s goal is to reduce cost, but this particular year it was driven by the level of staffing.”
The city also spent far more on evidence technicians than officials had budgeted, with the top technician earning an extra $83,084 on top of his regular $66,345 salary. Top technician John Ericson worked an average of 72 hours a week. Two other technicians posted average 64-hour and 63-hour weeks.
It cost the city a total of $203,400 in overtime.
Bennett said it couldn’t be helped. Ericson had to train new evidence technicians as well as handle all of the serious cases, he said.
“The other evidence technicians weren’t really up to speed yet on the really big cases,” Bennett said. “You wouldn’t dare send a brand new guy to a homicide. Particularly now with the focus on physical evidence, including DNA, you’d better go in with the varsity.”
The city also had to pay extra for the other evidence technicians to shadow Ericson at big cases so they could learn the job. Two of them are now ready to take on those cases, Bennett said, but it took a year of training, he said. And that meant a lot of work for Ericson.
Still, Bennett wasn’t worried that Ericson would miss crucial evidence because of his work schedule.
“No, because he is that good,” Bennett said. “He knows how to pace himself. You’ll see cases we preserve the crime scene with uniformed patrols, that’s to give this guy respite. That’s expensive, too, but he’s a very experienced guy and he knows when he needs to get rest.”
One other cost also crept up last year. Five officers earned more than $140,000, up from two last year. In 2008, eight employees broke the $140,000 mark.
In total, 55 city employees made more than $100,000, down from 56 workers last year. In 2008, 63 workers earned six-figure paychecks.