Baton Rouge city workers rack up thousands of hours of overtime

Photo provided by staff
Monday, August 12, 2013 - 9:15pm

A FOX44 investigation shows that many city employees are working hundreds of hours of overtime, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

A handful made more money in 2012 from overtime than they did from their base salary.

One hundred fourteen employees of the City of Baton Rouge collected in excess of $20,000 in overtime in 2012. They came from five departments: police, fire, public works, EMS, and the Constable's Office.

The police department had the most, with 83 officers and administrators earning at least $20,000, at a total cost of $2.69 million.

Chief Carl Dabadie said he expected the number to be higher, if anything, so he was not surprised.

"Not when you figure I have 650 (people) that work here," he stated.

While he would like to have a larger police force, he said sheer numbers would not eliminate the need for overtime.

"You're going to have that no matter how many officers you have on the job," he claimed. "So I don't think hiring more officers would fix the overtime problem, if there is a problem."

Thirteen police officers earned more than 1,000 hours of overtime, which equates to 20 every week. Five earned more from overtime pay than they did their base salary, including one officer who earned 140 percent of his salary through overtime.

"All these officers are volunteering," for extra assignments, Dabadie said, "and they're working on their time and they're putting in a lot of hours."

There are several reasons why police officers accumulate overtime quickly. One of the most ubiquitous is a court appearance. Officers have to appear before a judge after almost every arrest they make

"The courts will subpoena our officers, and officers will sometimes have court three, four, five times a week," Dabadie mentioned. "Two-thirds of our department work evenings and dog shift (overnight). Court is at 9:00 in the morning. So any time those officers have court, that have to come out for court. They're mandated by court to show up and we have to pay them overtime to come out and appear in court."

Officers are guaranteed a minimum payment for every court appearance, but the department has oversight in place to hold them accountable.

"We have officers that are assigned to court, to make sure that officers are punching in when they're supposed to, (and) when their court cases are over, then they're punching out," Dabadie stated.

Another cause of overtime for police officers is special grants. DWI enforcement and narcotics programs often receive federal funding and require officers to work extra hours.

"We have a lot of officers that work a lot of hours, but there's a lot of good that comes out of these grants, such as a lot of DWI arrests," Dabadie said. "We lead the state in DWI arrests. Our narcotics arrests, where we're getting guns and narcotics off the streets, which, in turn, we hope prevents murders."

There are also a limited number of officers with the specific training to implement those programs.

"Some of the grants do require specific certifications of an officer to be able to work a grant, such as a DWI grant. And then that limits the pool," Dabadie added.

Police details for special events also come out of the city's budget. And all those Mardi Gras parades, concerts, and marathons require officers to put in extra time.

"If we're paying officers to come out on overtime, I'm not pulling an officer off of the street to handle whatever the event is that we're doing," Dabadie noted.

But for the police department, paying overtime is actually cheaper than adding more people.

"If I hire one new officer," Dabadie claimed, "it costs me $100,000 up front to outfit, train, and pay him for that, as opposed to paying an officer a few hours of overtime to handle that event."

Paramedics also work long hours. East Baton Rouge EMS had 19 employees above the $20,000 mark. The total cost of their overtime to taxpayers: another $479,000.

But that is partly by design. Paramedics work one week of 48 hours, followed by another week of 36 hours, guaranteeing each of them at least eight hours of overtime per pay period.

"Working 12-hour shifts allows us to cover all our shifts, day and night, with less people," said Mike Chustz, an EMS spokesman.

It is also a physically demanding job, so paramedics spend a lot of time covering for each other.

"Lifting, you're always lifting stretchers and patients, sometimes from bad situations, so we have a lot of people who get injured," Chustz said. "Shoulder injuries, back injuries, things like that."

Another source of overtime hours for paramedics is training, of which they are required to complete roughly 30 hours a year, if not more.

"A lot of this is regulated by the federal government," Chustz stated. "And of course, when we get new equipment, we have to bring our medics in and train them. Any time it's mandatory, any time the medics have to come in, we have to pay them for their time to be here."

The police and EMS have to be on duty 24/7, so their people will put in as many hours as it takes to do their jobs. Whether it is a crime scene that needs processing or a patient in need of treatment, those workers do not use a clock to judge the end of their day. But both departments limit their employees to 16-hour shifts, and have additional rules to make sure none of them put the public's safety at risk.

"They cannot work more than five days in a row, and they have to have eight hours off before they come for their shift," Chustz said. "A minimum eight hours off.

"You don't want a tired medic, you don't want a tired pilot coming to work. You know, in certain jobs, you don't want somebody burned out coming in."

"With that 16 hours in a 24-hour period, we feel that they're able, that it doesn't deteriorate their judgment enough to warrant pulling them off," Dabadie said.

LSU football games tax the budgets of both the police department and EMS. BRPD puts roughly 120 police officers around Tiger Stadium on game day and the day before, to help with security and traffic. EMS sends as many as 20 paramedics, and Chustz said that depending on the opponent and the start time, they may spend 16 hours on duty.

In addition to the police officers and paramedics, 10 members of the Department of Public Works, one firefighter, and one deputy constable also earned more than $20,000 in overtime in 2012.  

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