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SF’s new police chief defends soaring overtime spending

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New San Francisco police Chief William Scott defended overtime spending before the Board of Supervisors, saying an uptick in protests and training caused the increase. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/2016 Special to S.F. Examiner)

Five months into the job, San Francisco’s police chief has found himself in the politically untenable position of having to defend the department exceeding overtime spending by $6.5 million.

Further challenging the defense was the fact that the Police Department’s overtime spending has increased by 71 percent — $8.8 million — during the past five years, from $12.3 million in fiscal year 2011-12 to an estimated $21.1 million in FY 2016-17. Not only that, but The City has added more officers to the department.

That had several supervisors scratching their heads since they were told hiring more officers would actually reduce overtime, but the opposite has occurred.

Police Chief William Scott must defend paying officers $6.5 million more in overtime this fiscal year than initially budgeted because the Board of Supervisors has to approve it. A 2011 law meant to crack down on overtime abuse requires departments to receive board permission to exceed their initial overtime budgets.

The Police Department isn’t alone.

Today, the full board is expected to approve a combined $19 million for five other city departments whose overtime budgets didn’t pencil out. The full board will vote on the Police Department’s overtime budget increase in two weeks.

The money comes from other sources in the budget, but Budget Analyst Harvey Rose emphasized that if departments lived within their overtime budgets there would be surplus funding for other uses.

Adding to the concerns was that four of the six city departments’ requests, including police, came in after the overtime expense had already been incurred, which is out of compliance with the 2011 law.

The board’s Budget and Finance Committee took Scott to task last week, after holding up that department’s overtime request two weeks ago amid numerous concerns. In the end, the committee approved the request, putting it in the hands of the full board in two weeks.

Catherine McGuire, SFPD’s chief financial officer, attributed the increase in overtime to the large number of those newly hired officers in field training leading to arrests and investigations taking longer. There is also overtime being spent at higher levels for training the new recruits and there was an increase in political protests.

Scott specifically pointed to the unexpected protests that erupted around the election of President Donald Trump as one reason for the overtime increase this fiscal year, and also the steady rise in 911 calls, including from residents about homeless residents.

Scott said that there were 700,000 emergency calls and officer-initiated responses on patrol in 2013 and that has increased to 1.1 million in 2016.

In many ways the Police Department’s experience with the budget committee is a prelude of what’s to come when it reviews Mayor Ed Lee’s proposed city budget for next fiscal year. Supervisor Jane Kim emphasized in accordance with a recommendation from Rose that the department provide more supporting evidence behind the overtime spending.

“One of the commitments that had been made to us at previous budget committees is that as we commit to more officers that we will see overtime decrease. And what we are seeing is exactly the opposite,” Kim said last week, expressing frustration.

Rose suggested an audit.

“Probably most of this overtime is justified,” Rose said. “However, if we were to make an audit I’m willing to bet we will find some overtime that is not justified.”

The current year budget set overtime spending at $14.6 million, not the expected $21 million, which amounts to 226,521 overtime hours worked, up from last year’s 216,476. In FY 2013-14, overtime hours totaled 129,368. Scott said the Police Department’s overtime spending in the mayor’s budget proposal will be $17.4 million, $2.8 million more than approved at the start of last fiscal year.

“We understand there is a lot competing interests for city budgetary dollars,” Scott said. “We believe that will give us the adequate amount of overtime and we will manage to that [level]. We are redoubling our efforts on the management side.”

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