Wednesday, November 08, 2017

What is a DA's role in dictating police overtime pay?

Over the summer, Grits highlighted perverse incentives created by overtime rules in police union contracts that give officers extra pay for time they appear in court, honing in on the subject in July's Reasonably Suspicious podcast. Some officers have gamed the system to extract exorbitant amounts of overtime pay which not infrequently can exceed an officer's annual salary.

So I was interested to see in coverage of the Philadelphia DA's race this tidbit about why the local police union opposed the ultimately victorious reform candidate:
Why is [the union] so afraid to see [Larry] Krasner as Philly’s head prosectuor? Because he will lose the ability to protect “bad apples” and their overtime pay. 
According to Open Data Philly, in 2016 some police officers and detectives earned $100,000 in overtime, more than doubling their salary. The way most police officers make overtime is by appearing in court. If the DA’s office brings charges after an arrest, the cop will most likely be called to testify. In Philadelphia, every time officers appear in court off-shift, they receive a minimum of two hours of overtime pay. This is a clear financial incentive for cops to arrest as many people as possible, and might explain why in 2016 one in four pedestrian stops made by Philadelphia police was deemed unconstitutional
Krasner’s campaign platform pledges that he will “end this practice [stop-and-frisk] by refusing to bring to trial cases stemming from illegal frisks and searches.” McNesby’s main concern as a union representative is the compensation of FOP members. Unfortunately, those members work in a system that rewards civil rights violations. Cops who abuse civil rights to increase their salary will be hurt if Krasner is the next DA.
Your correspondent had not heretofore made the connection between local DA policies and the ability of police officers to max out overtime. Not only do cities incentivize court time through contracts, but DAs through scheduling conceivably could have an enormous impact on how much overtime a given officer makes. I hadn't considered that.

Regardless, this is evidence that officers gaming the system to maximize overtime pay for court appearances isn't just a Houston, or an Austin, or just a Texas problem, but instead is something with which many cities are struggling. They get these overly generous provisions in their contracts, then act surprised when officers behave in a way to maximize their own self interest. But the officers ultimately are not the ones to blame. Rather, those who allowed such policies to be enacted in the first place are primarily culpable for the problem. And in many cases, it can only be rectified once every few years when the union contract comes up for renewal.


Lee said...

Grits, Why are any witnesses paid remittance to come to court and testify? Shouldn't any witness come to court and testify as they are subpoenaed to? Why are police officers an exception requiring remittance to come to court and testify but a dentist who saw a crime happen outside of a grocery store receives no remittance for the time they had to spend in court away from their trade?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Because it's part of their job. OTOH, there's no reason they can't perform that function during their regular work day.

Miketrials said...

I'd thought it was pretty clear that a DA can "take care of" favorite cops by ensuring OT, and more of it, in the way the underlying arrest was handled -- formal charges brought? trial continued? This is a huge component of police compensation, especially when the cops are paid crap, as they are here in Baltimore. (Hmmm. Wonder if that has any relation to all the problems in the BPD? Naaah.)

That being said, to address Lee, like Grits observed, it is part of their job to testify, no less than any other state-employed witness (techs, etc.). But, the excessive OT problem has a solution, it would appear.

A cop under subpoena must appear. Period. It must be on him, if served a minimum period before trial, to notice his superior to cover for him, if he's working, or to rearrange shifts to ensure he is working the shift (0800-1700 or whatever), and thereby compensated for his appearance which is on the clock.

Cops work 7 day weeks, the courts only 5, if that, so we must account for the fact the Monday morning subpoena may be on a cop's weekend. And it should be the same way for crime scene techs, etc. -- anyone who works 7 but can testify only on 5. But the cost shouldn't be the taxpayers', in the form of OT for this. If anything, hire more cops (still cheaper than OT) to cover the shifts, figuring a certain percentage of street officers will be in court on any given day.

Assuming I am right, it seems pretty clear why this isn't the way things are done, and that's the FOP or some other police union, and their effect upon spineless politicos.

john said...

Not just DWI!! ALL cases, no matter how "rolling stop" bogus, your whole lives, gets the cops and Judges court time while you struggle to take off work, let alone pay a lawyer whose allegiance is strictly to The Bar union & Court(s). (Cops may also have their own unions' pressures.)
While there are going to be a few bad appholes gaming, hating, cheating, etc.; THE REAL PROBLEM IS THE SYSTEMATIC FLAUNTING OF CITIZENS, FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE "LEGAL" INDUSTRY. That's why Courts cherry-pick the written law for their own expedience, why they hate and delay pro ses, and generally push the police to cheat or destroy the very We The Poor People they were to "serve & protect."
Apphole lawyers grow up to be judges & politicians--
Angry Apple Orchard barrels!!

Anonymous said...

Why not a program of comp time vs over time?

I expect they get reserved parking as well.

Anonymous said...

Grits, I've commented on this before in past pieces so the narrative that you hadn't considered some of this hurts my feelings that you must not read the comments very closely. ;)

Forget the "DA's playing favorites" BS for a moment, while possible it really can't account for the bulk of court overtime. The "big incentive to make false arrests" is another stretch of the imagination in most cases, and anyone that thinks hiring more cops over paying existing cops court overtime simply hasn't done the math all the way through.

I'd suggest that the percentage of overtime tied to court appearances is largely out of the hands of individual cops and it varies greatly from agency to agency. And suggestions of comp time instead of pay is swell except that there are limits to how much comp time you can accumulate in most departments before it rolls over as pay, those who are close to retiring generally get such time back in the form of pay as well as a boost to pensions in some jurisdictions so be very careful what you wish for.

Those of you that have attended court for one reason or another may have noticed that most courts tend to keep banker's hours, typically from 9 AM to about 4 PM, give or take. As such, expecting cops that work nights or evening shifts to adjust their shifts will have unintended consequences such as low manpower or finding that the cop gets to work a double shift, which must be paid as overtime in most cases. How that impacts public safety when shifts are changed at random invokes recent studies tied to sleep deprivation but lets save that for another time.

For the most part, courts send subpoenas to cops to show up far more often than they are actually needed. It might be the court has another trial taking place, a defense lawyer is otherwise occupied or any of a myriad of other reasons but it is rare that DA's set policies according to what helps cops, defendants, or anyone but their own staff. Many commenting here over the years prove their ignorance regarding where fine money goes, for example, municipal fines go to general funds of the city and county case fines go to the county or state, not the police departments or cops. On the cost side of the equation, the overtime costs to subpoena a city officer comes from the municipal budget, not the DA's or county budget so they don't care about anything other than their own convenience.

Dallas and Houston have taken various steps to reduce such overtime over the years but always find those nasty unintended consequences backfire, case in point being Houston. Houston decided there were too many traffic cops making a lot of overtime so they made defendants come in multiple times, first an arraignment, then a preliminary hearing, and then what was called the court date. Without enough jurors to try more than a few cases, this led to defendants having to make a plea deal or come back many times before they had a trial. Other than the arraignment, the cops had to show up too. So the city then scheduled cops to come on one day a month, two if they were the elite ticket squad guys.

Those cops would then have a single court day each two weeks or month but have up to 8 courts in that single day so if they were in trial on one case, everyone else would to keep coming back until they either gave up eventually had a trial. The overtime costs did go down but the worst of the consequences were on the backs of the defendants, one case could keep a cop in court all day just the same as 75 cases so there really wasn't much incentive. It should also be noted that many cops made more working various forms of overtime than they did in court, the belief that court was the golden goose proven false as many had extra details such as police escorts yielding far moire than court pay.