The City Council Committee on Ways and Means, chaired by Councilor Kenzie Bok, held a hearing on November 16 to discuss police overtime and police oversight protocols.
Bok said that it was a “major initiative of the council and administration” to pass a budget that includes a $12 million reduction in police overtime. She said the actual overtime budget for Fiscal Year 2020 was $72.5 million, and the goal is a $24.5 million dollar reduction in budget, which Bok said “is not on track” to be achieved.
After passing the budget, the council called for quarterly hearings to “scrutinize the plans,” she said, so this hearing was one of them.
“In the last hearing, we got a lot of ideas and thoughts but no specifics,” Councilor Andrea Campbell said. “Since that last hearing, there have been concerns raised by many about the accuracy of overtime records and court overtime in particular.”
She and other councilors called for more transparency regarding police overtime data, citing documents released by the Woke Windows Project “as well as other advocates who have been paying close attention to this,” Campbell said.
Councilor Ricardo Arroyo said that though some electronic records were received, the “rest of the records are paper,” as court overtime slips and sign in sheets are on paper and the council has not seen these. He said that when cross-referencing these records with a database of available police reports, there were “discrepancies found on dozens of officers” who were in other places at the same time they were documented as being in court.
“That was concerning and alarming…” Arroyo said.
Councilor Flynn said that he is aware that “many police officers are required to work overtime,” and due to that, he wants to advocate for more police officers in the city to take the burden off of those who work so many hours. He said that a “serious conversation” around retirements and forced overtime needs to be had, as well as looking at hiring more officers.
Boston Police Superintendent Jim Hasson along with Deputy Superintendent James Chin were on hand to answer questions from councilors.
Bok said that the council sent an information request to the police department in search of data from the first quarter “and follow ups on things that have come up.” She said that “substantial” information had been received from the department as well as the reports from advocacy groups.
According to the Boston Police Department, in Quarter One, there was a 14.6% decrease in overtime hours compared to first quarter of last year. Additionally, replacement personnel, which is 43.9% of total overtime costs, “remains relatively flat,” special events have been reduced by 37.6%, court has been reduced by 77%, and primarily discretionary extended tours have been reduced 12.1%.
She also said that “court overtime is way down,” but “how much is due to the fact that much court business has been reduced?”
Hasson said that the way he determines the minimum level of staffing is related to the amount of crime, the population, the number of 911 calls in a given area, as well as the response time to the incidents.
“That’s a conversation that’s held between the chief of the bureau of field service and each district captain,” Hasson said, which is “constantly” reviewed in a weekly deployment call.
He also presented some data related to staffing, saying that the BPD is currently projecting 156 retirements, and a class of 110 recruits began on November 3 with the expectation of 100 new police officers. In the spring of next year, another class of 60 recruits will commence with the expectation of 50 new officers.
“The Office of Budget Management and the BPD are continuously looking at retirements to ensure our staffing resources are met,” a slide read.
Campbell asked if it would be possible to make all overtime information and breakdown public so people would not have to put in a formal request for it. While some of the data is public, not all of it is, she said.
Hasson said that there has been “no discussion on that,” but said he would be willing to have one and he will bring it up to Commissioner Gross.
He said that “four hour overtime is contractual,” and any changes made to contracts “would have to be determined at the bargaining table.
However, he said there have been dome discussions on capping overtime and reorganizing the department.
According to a slide presented by the BPD at the hearing, commitment to overtime reductions include “increased tracking, monitoring, and analysis, increased communication, [and] a regional lockup proposal.”
The BPD said that is has been “greatly impacted” by the pandemic as well as social and political demonstrations that were prevalent over the past several months.
“Proposed internal structural changes are on hold due to the increase in crime, demonstrations, and the impact of COVID on our staffing levels,” the slide read.
“Again, public safety is the paramount issue there and some of those units that we discussed are critical to providing the safety that the residents of Boston expect from us,” Hasson said. “Those are ongoing. We’re trying to come up with innovative and strategic ways to achieve that $25 million.”
Councilor Arroyo pointed out some discrepancies in data where officers logged court overtime for 150 days out of the year. Hasson clarified that officers can only receive court overtime if they are off duty.
“The system would kick that out,” Hasson said. “You can’t put an overtime slip the same time you’re working a regular tour of duty.”
Councilor Julia Mejia wondered how officers’ hours are capped or how they are helped by the department so they aren’t harmful to themselves or the people they serve.
“How safe is it for officers to work 17 hours a day?” she asked. Hasson said that “there are many officers that work that, especially during times of potential issues that people are going to be needed. Some do it willingly and some not willingly.”
He said that if an officer goes beyond 17 hours in a single day, they are sent home. He said that officers working more than 17 hours happens only on “rare occasions when no one is available,” but it does happen.
Mejia said she is trying to see this situation “from all sides,” but she thinks the system needs to be examined. “I think that working 17 hours a day is unhealthy and irresponsible,” she said.
Hasson said that the Boston Police Department is “committed to officer safety and public safety,” and “the solution has to lie in there. The residents of Boston, they depend on us. When they call 911, they have an expectation that we’re going to be coming.”
Councilors agreed with this, but said that they will continue to push for more transparency and more answers to their questions.