Sunday, August 06, 2017

Overtime for police court appearances a growing cost driver at Austin PD

Last month, a Grits post highlighted provisions in the Austin and Houston meet and confer contracts which gave police officers extra pay for time they spend testifying in court. In Houston, courts found this gave officers an incentive to make arrests on bogus DWI cases so they could make extra money - often quite a bit more than their base pay - in overtime for court appearances. And Austin's overtime pay for court appearances is even more generous.

Now, a budget response to questions by Austin Mayor Steve Adler about the drivers of overtime expenditures and police budget costs supplies light on the subject from a different angle. According to the city manager's response,

In 2016, overtime per sworn officer at APD was $11,647, up from $8,108 per officer in 2014.

Adler asked what was driving costs and overtime use at Austin PD. Looking beyond base officer pay, which in Austin steps up quickly with seniority to make them among the highest-paid officers in the state, the biggest over-time related item listed among the cost drivers was "Contract mandated Court overtime for police officers." That was the third largest item in an "other" category of cost drivers which included "Retirement" and "Health Insurance."

So, although we can't say from these data what proportion of overtime expenditures is due to court appearances (as opposed to callbacks or other, more mundane sources of overtime), overtime costs for court appearances have clearly mounted and now represent a significant sum.

20 comments:

Steven Seys said...

If there were a law that allowed the defendants in bogus cases to seek reembursment of court costs, lawyer fees and lost wages from the officer who initiated the case, the officers' overtime incentive for filing false charges would be eliminated. Alas the law would be struck down by the court on the principle of immunity. It's too bad that the courts have given themselves and all officials that work with them immunity from the law. Whenever you put someone above the law, human nature will lead them to abuse their authority. Elizabeth the First was right to execute her cousin Mary Queen of Scotts on the principle that no one is above the law.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, there's such a lack of actual crime that officers need to go make stuff up on the hope their suspect generates them overtime by fighting the charges, sarcasm intended. Much of the overtime generated from court is tied to traffic court, at least in Austin and Houston. I defy anyone to drive the streets of either city and claim they didn't see a near endless number of violations, from red light running to speeding, to all the other myriad of violations officers stop us for. Only a blind person cannot see that in daily observations so the narrative that they need to concoct false charges is wishful thinking at best. That doesn't mean it can't happen, just that there's no reason for it to, those making that claim rarely providing a shred of objective evidence to support their stance.

So while everyone else gets paid significantly more for attending court, the defense lawyers clean up in the practice, judges are making six figure salaries, and prosecutors are typically well paid as well, some feel that officers should attend court for free on top of their regular shift hours. Maybe it would make sense to hold night court for those officers, lets hear the lawyers howl at having to come in from suburbia to attend such as it isn't convenient for them, relatively few municipal judges will work such hours without a significant premium either, but then you could keep that mean old officer off the streets just in case he might have thought being paid to show up to court was such a bother.

Anonymous said...

5:17AM - I'd like to hit the "Like" button.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@5:17, the thing about the guy pushing marginal DWI cases in Houston actually occurred. Austin's DWI crew has been accused of making marginal arrests of sober people and now we know their overtime bennies are even more generous. Looks a bit like a pattern to me. I agree there's no NEED to do cut corners, but that doesn't mean corners aren't cut.

OTOH, because, as you point out, there's so much less crime, IMO court appearances could typically be accommodated during the work day with just a little coordination between two city agencies. And when overtime is needed, giving four hours at time-and-a-half for showing up for work half an hour early is probably a little excessive.

Anonymous said...

Grits, just because a lawyer or two made the claim that a Houston officer was making "marginal" DWI arrests doesn't make it true. Let's get them under oath and sworn in to strip them of their immunity when making such claims, not a single case mentioned lacking the probable cause needed to make an arrest. And if Austin is paying 4.5 hours overtime for 30 minutes of show up time in court before their regular shift, they are a rarity in the state of Texas because nobody else does that.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@7:53: Not just "a lawyer or two" made that claim. So many lawyers successfully made that claim that some appellate judges saw it as ineffective assistance if it wasn't raised by counsel in that officers' cases! You must see the difference!

And Austin's contract mandates 4 hours of overtime for 30 minutes of show-up time before the shift (not 4.5). Cite to the specific provision is in the earlier post that's linked at the top.

Anonymous said...

Accommodate during the work day? How would you propose to set that up without leaving shifts, especially evenings and overnight, short handed? I would think if you have some good ideas for doing that without compromising citizen and officer safety most departments would be interested into looking into good options.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Maybe, 3:19. IMO it wouldn't be too hard to designate one day a week for each officer to go to court and schedule their cases thusly. But for most cities, the goal is not to make it EASY for the defendant to have their day in court but to make it DIFFICULT. So there's no incentive to make things simple and predictable when they could be haphazard and handled in the most expensive possible way. That's what maximizes payment rates and minimizes hassle to bureaucrats, which are the driving motivations of government in this matter.

sh

Anonymous said...

That's an awful contract. Sounds like the city manager should be the one burnt at the stake.

Anonymous said...

Do forensic analysts get overtime for providing expert witness testimony?

Nope. Which is why surrogate testimony occurs (regardless of Crawford, Melendez-Diaz, or Bullcoming.)

Anonymous said...

Bogus arrests so the officers could collect overtime..

If ever the legislature need to make a crime punishable by death this is it. No true American could argue against such a law...

Anonymous said...

Long ago, Houston put their traffic enforcement cops on a one day a week municipal court schedule, later making it twice a month for the most productive ticket writers. It was done on a day off because they were writing so many tickets, it cost the city money to make their court day one of their regular days on the clock. Keeping in mind that this small group of cops write most of the tickets for the entire agency, all that did was make it tougher on those who wanted to fight tickets, resets extremely limited and only on those days making it difficult for counsel not specializing in city traffic court to balance out cases with the county or other agencies so many just dropped representing people.

Then, each cop would have dozens and dozens of tickets in a multitude of courts at the same time, further delaying chances to resolve them amicably, the city even trying to force their cops to only speak with defense when a prosecutor was present, defensive driving or deferred cases only offered prior to the date when the cop was to show up. So whatever perceived benefit there might be with a small number of cops not in that division is offset by the constant squeeze against defendants, narrowing down the cop's court times hurting us more than them. But the county and district courts make it crystal clear that they have no interest in saving the city money by joining in this one day process either so if they decided to start making lots of impaired driver arrests, any scheme to limit days would be out the window.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8/10/2017 07:33:00 AM, no matter what you do, someone will be unhappy. To completely remove any scintilla of a hint of financial incentive, the cop would have to testify on his own time for free. I doubt the bulk of the community would find the consequences acceptable since it would undoubtedly lead to officers avoiding arrests at all costs. If you try to have a single day approach, just how many judges are going to want to have a DWI trial spread across a month so they can accommodate such a scheme, no good defense lawyer about to limit their access to the cop to one day a week.

Putting it in context, lawyers like Gary Trichter, Tyler Flood, or Paul Nugent, all of whom are or were big names in DWI defense locally, each charge more to go to trial on a single case than the average local cop makes in overtime from court per year. To truly remove any doubt of guilt from such a case would just require a simple blood test, virtually all those arrested showing much more than the presumptive rate even hours later. That would kill their cash cow and many defense lawyers are part time legislators, so it will never happen.

Anonymous said...

Get rid off ticket quotas for officers

DLW said...

8:24, can you provide us a list of defense lawyers that are part time legislators. Thanks in advance.

Anonymous said...

@4:12, per the National Conference of State Legislatures, about 30% of Texas legislators qualify, the percentage varying with each session. If 8:24 wants to provide a list for you, that's up to him/her but even a quick search proves the point.

DLW said...

12:43, 8:24 specifically said DEFENSE lawyers, not lawyers in general. Do you have a statistic on Defense Lawyers in the legislature? And so we don't get off track, he is referring to criminal Law so by "defense Lawyer", I'm expecting Criminal Defense Lawyer numbers.

Anonymous said...

DLW, this is 12:43 again. Just for clarification, wouldn't those lawyers who represent clients in civil court qualify as defense lawyers too since they are defending someone?

DLW said...

5:26, In my opinion, the civil bar doesn't qualify because the context of 8:24'a original post suggested a belief that defense lawyers in the Legislature were blocking legislation that would make prosecuting DWI easier.

Anonymous said...

DLW, legislators block or water down laws for personal gain all the time and have done so since the founding of the Republic so why would elected lawyers be any different? Those who have full time jobs representing HOA's go out of their way to protect their bread and butter, those who own or manage property tax abatement firms appear to resist tax reform, and these are only a few examples. I don't think the context of previous comments supports your contention regarding criminal/civil either, ask around the courthouse for numerous examples of legislative back scratching and self serving changes after each session.