Policing the police: City leaders look at OT problem

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 30, 2004

Ironton Police Chief Bill Garland and city leaders are looking for the figurative weed killer since the city's police overtime costs continue to grow and grow.

Simply not having enough officers is at the heart of the problem, Garland said.

Though some overtime is expected, the IPD has logged a total of 1,923 overtime hours so far this year, forcing the city finance committee to appropriate more money for the 19 person department that includes 14 officers, 4 dispatchers and a secretary.

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Having such a small staff means that everyone is scheduled to work the maximum amount. As soon as someone takes vacation days, sick time or comp time it becomes tough on the department and has truly hampered their ability to do the job, Garland said.

"Under the union contract, someone can be on vacation, then someone can take a personal day and then someone else can take comp time," Garland said. "Right there, I have lost my whole shift and have to call in someone on overtime."

Several injury leaves, a lack of dispatchers, unexpected circumstances and the need to keep more than two officers on the roads over the weekends have also been problems, the chief said.

"We are a skeleton crew anyway you look at it. The mayor and I have been working with the officers to try and get more officers out there on Fridays and Saturdays," Garland said. "It has been almost impossible."

The IPD OT salaries and holiday line-item was allocated $53,000 in the 2004 budget, up from $49,715 in 2002. If city council approves the recommended changes, the line-item's total will be at $62,850 for the year.

Finance Committee Chairman Brent Pyles said he understands that they are doing the best they can with the manpower they have but emphasized that he would like to see more done to correct the overtime problem that has escalated in the past three years.

"Every year it is the same thing and every year it is the same excuses," Pyles said, although he knows that some changes have been made. "I haven't seen many steps taken to change it. I'm disappointed in it."

Mayor John Elam said he and the chief have looked at the problem but cannot see too many options with the current staffing levels. Elam believes that the hiring of additional officers would help eliminate the problem and be nearly offset by the additional tickets that could be written and OT reduction.

Garland agrees that it would help if he had at least one additional officer each shift - a total of three. Regardless, he believes that some of the problems will be alleviated because they have all the dispatching positions now filled.

"For nine months, nine whole months now, we have had to put another dispatcher or officer in that position," Garland said. "There is your overtime."

Recent flood problems and a visit by U.S. President George W. Bush has only been fuel for the fire.

"We had to order out every officer I had that day. We had 11 officers out that day," Garland said. "We had no choice in the matter. Secret Service told us we had to do it."

The chief wants the department to return to being proactive instead of reactive but said he knows that the department will have to walk a tightrope between doing the job and breaking the city.

The city's flood department also had higher than anticipated overtime expenses. The newest budget adjustment seeks to add $2,700 to the fund.