Sandwich Police Department Overtime Way Over Budget
By: Mary Stanley
The Sandwich Police Department budget could run as much as $330,000 in the red before the end of the fiscal year. That’s because of all the overtime that has been logged by the officers.
Police Chief Peter N. Wack told the finance committee this week that it has been a “perfect storm of events” this past year that caused his overtime hours to rack up so quickly.
He said there have been a number of long-term absences since last spring, and at one point last summer, the busiest time of the year for his department, he was operating with only nine of 20 patrol officers available. The police department has been down 17 people since July 2011, though he said the number fluctuates, as some officers come back from military leave and others go out.
He said the long-term absences were due to a variety of reasons including injuries, military leave, administrative leave and a retirement.
The good news, he said, is that three officers who were hired last year, to replace retired officers and the one officer who left the department, are now fully trained and will be ready to hit the road this month.
The chief is estimating that before the end of the fiscal year, he will be back before the finance committee asking for a reserve fund transfer of between $250,000 and $330,000.
With only $375,000 left in the town’s reserves, such a request would eat up the bulk of the balance.
Finance committee member John D. Vibberts asked the chief what could be done to avoid such a high overtime expense in the future.
The chief wasted no time in recommending that six civilian dispatchers be hired. As it stands now, he said, trained police officers who could be on the road are running the dispatch unit. By hiring civilian dispatchers, the chief said, he would be able to put the trained officers back on the road, which would increase the number of patrol officers from three to four for the daytime and nighttime shifts, all of which represents an increase in services for the community.
“We could put the badges on the road, where they should be,” he said.
Though the additional dispatchers would cost $387,000 per year, which includes benefits, Chief Wack said it would significantly reduce overtime spending. He explained that by using civilians to man the dispatch—each earning a lower salary than a police officer—the officers who are currently assigned to the dispatch unit would be put on the road, thus providing four patrol officers per shift rather than the three he currently provides. He said this move provides better coverage of the town and better services to residents. If, for some reason, an officer is out for the day, Chief Wack could still run the shift safely and adequately with only three patrol officers, eliminating the need to call somebody in on overtime.
“We would be providing better police services and spending less on overtime,” Chief Wack said in a telephone interview this week.
And because there are annual training requirements for all dispatchers, the chief said he would save money also by sending only the six civilian dispatchers to those training sessions each year rather than all 31 of his officers.
Chief Wack pointed out that using civilian dispatchers is not a new concept and Sandwich is one of only a few towns still using police officers to run dispatch.
He said towns such as Harwich and Mashpee that have similar-sized police departments use civilian dispatchers.
While meeting with the finance committee, Chief Wack also said he hopes to maintain just three cars on the midnight shift and use the fourth slot to promote an officer to a detective. Though the additional detective would not have a significant effect on reducing the overtime spending, Chief Wack said it is a position that is desperately needed.
Despite the number of long-term absences that his department experienced this year, Chief Wack said officers continued to cover shifts and do their jobs.
“For the last calendar year, arrests were up by 28 percent and motor vehicle stops were up by 45 percent. But we’re working harder just to keep up with the tide coming in,” he told finance committee members.
“The work effort of our men and women has been completely outstanding. They are makings arrests and patrolling the roads and still reaching out to the community,” he said.