Trending Topics

Baton Rouge police on pace to nearly double 2024 overtime budget

As much as surges in crime are principle to more overtime, so is staffing, department leadership says

Baton Rouge Police Department

It is far from irregular for the Baton Rouge Police Department to exceed its overtime budget in a given year, with the city-parish eclipsing the mark each year since 2020.

Photo/Baton Rouge Police Department

By Patrick Sloan Turner
The Advocate

BATON ROUGE, La. — Like countless other law enforcement agencies across the U.S., the Baton Rouge Police Department has struggled with understaffing for the better part of the past decade.

Mirroring 2023 nationwide trends of the first increases in department manpower since the killing of George Floyd in 2020, BRPD Chief Thomas Morse said he has started to see staff numbers get closer to goals locally too. Still, the department is about 100 officers short.

And it has proved costly.

Trending
“We have to be prepared in a moment’s notice to react to situations like this,” Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay said, applauding the professionalism of his deputy
Save on charging stations, fitness and outdoor essentials, from Pelotons to camping tents
From high-tech smart bikes to simple, budget-friendly models, there’s something for everyone
Country singer Gary Allan is giving away a VIP concert experience to honor fallen Minneapolis Police Officer Jamal Mitchell

Not yet at 2024’s halfway mark, city-parish data shows the department has already paid out around 86% of its budgeted overtime allotment for the year.

The reasons why are less than simple, Morse said, as police staffing is just one ingredient for a city that has seen a significant uptick in crime, demanding more officers available to respond and more preventative policing to keep streets safe.

Supply and demand

It is far from irregular for the Baton Rouge Police Department to exceed its overtime budget in a given year, with the city-parish eclipsing the mark each year since 2020.

What might be of note is the steadily increasing trend in overtime paid out in almost every year. In 2021, the city ended up paying out 130% of the department’s originally budgeted overtime amount, a decrease from the 138% in 2020.

Since then, the amount of overtime paid compared to what was originally budgeted has climbed, as 168% was paid 2022 and 176% was dispersed in 2023.

At the current rate, the city-parish is on pace to pay 184% of its originally budgeted BRPD overtime allotment from the city’s general fund for 2024.

With this dollar amount trending upward each year, residents might wonder if the increases are symptomatic of understaffing, upticks in crime or other factors.

“I think the short answer is yes,” Morse said. “It’s a lot of things.”

BRPD overtime approval is often granted on a need basis. Morse notes that Baton Rouge has seen an uptick in crime — specifically violent crime — in the early part of 2024.

While national trends show dips in violent crime in the year’s first quarter, Baton Rouge has undergone the opposite through the first five and half months. Through June 17, 51 homicides had been committed in Baton Rouge in 2024 — a 21% increase from the same date a year ago, according to BRPD data.

“We’re spending more money on overtime for the detectives that have to come out to those (crime) scenes,” Morse said, adding these crimes also demand extra manpower from staff like crime scene technicians.

Just as the investigating these crimes demands more labor, so do extra hours put toward crime prevention during these periods.

“It’s both sides of that ... And the mayor’s office has been extremely helpful when we were talking about this gun violence reduction effort and putting more officers on the street,” Morse said, also mentioning that Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome’s administration is going to help absorb as much as $25,000 to $30,000 each week with the initiative.

The approval for overtime requests is made at Broome’s desk. Mark Armstrong , the mayor’s spokesperson, said the she consults with the chief regarding an overtime strategy whenever she grants it, and echoes Morse in the notion that its often both due to staffing shortages and upticks in crime.

“Overtime is also indicative of an overtime initiative that began after a spike in crime earlier this year, which has produced positive results so far,” Armstrong said.

The overtime that has already been paid has gone in a slew of directions, Morse said, like extra officers assigned to aid security at the juvenile detention center while the facility underwent improvements early this year or the more than 100 officers who helped direct traffic during this year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Analysis of the city’s data shows some divisions of BRPD’s budget have received more overtime than others so far this year.

As of Thursday, uniform patrol had been paid $1.35 million — or 79% — of the $1.85 million allotment for overtime this year. Others have already gone over budget like administration, which has tallied nearly $95,000 more overtime than the $312,860 budgeted. BRPD’s Operational Services Bureau — which includes departments like dispatch, crime statistics and research, records and others — has more than doubled its overtime budget for the year, totaling 206% of its fund as of Thursday.

While the department has exceeded its budgeted amount for overtime every year since 2020, it has not exceeded its total budget in any of the past four years, according to the city’s open budget.

“Also, what contributes to overtime is our non-sworn positions as well,” said BRPD Deputy Police Chief and department Chief of Staff Sharon Douglas . “We’re understaffed in places like communications — which are the dispatchers — and we’re trying to recruit personnel for that as well.”

Help wanted

As much as surges in crime are principle to more overtime, so is staffing, department leadership says.

Morse said the department as a whole is around 100 officers short of where it would like to be.

“I think the highest we’ve ever been is around the 660 mark,” he said. “We’re allotted 698, and right now we’re sitting at 570 ... but we’re only funded for 648.”

Officers themselves understand the department is shorthanded too, said Bill Profita, spokesperson for the Baton Rouge Union of Police.

“Unequivocally, we are down a number of officers due to retirements and attrition and things like that,” Profita said. “We agree with the chief, we would like to see more officers. Not necessarily just for public safety, but for officer safety too.”

Despite the increased requests for extra shifts to be picked up, the union representative said he hasn’t heard anyone say they feel overworked.

“Even though we’re short the number of officers that we are, they are managing to make sure everything is covered 24/7, just like they’re supposed to,” Profita said.

Still, the shortage has spurred a focus on recruiting in the last administration and since Morse took over as head of the force in January.

In reaching people looking to start a career, Morse said he thinks the best way is to show them the immediate benefits of joining.

“They want to know what they’ll be getting paid now. They want to know that they might get a take-home unit,” he said.

There’s a smaller pool of prospects than before, Morse said, which prompts the promotion of BRPD’s brand in competition of other agencies.

BRPD leadership uses the department’s size as a selling point, with administrators calling it small enough for officers to know each other but large enough to contain specialized divisions like SWAT, K-9 or homicide.

Residents might see increased crime in Baton Rouge and an understaffed police force and be quick to correlate the two. And while Morse doesn’t believe there’s a completely direct connection between the two, he is optimistic that getting the department better staffed will deter violence.

“I don’t think it’s that simple,” Morse said. “But when you look at police presence in an area — just the number of police cars driving around, making traffic stops, doing that kind of thing — you definitely see a decrease in all types of crimes. Everything from violent crime to property crime.”

___

(c)2024 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

Visit The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La. at www.theadvocate.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.