Boston city councilors look to police union contracts to cut $25M in OT
City councilors said police will need to get "creative" to stay within COVID-fueled budget cuts
By Erin Tiernan
BOSTON — City councilors said police will need to get "creative" to slash $25 million from the overtime budget this year, and warned they'll push for solutions through union contract negotiations expected to unfold over the coming months.
"Reductions so far have very much been driven by COVID savings and conditions. What the council and administration committed to on behalf of the public was a more structural change," City Councilor Kenzie Bok told the Herald following a four-hour oversight meeting on Monday.
Overtime costs were down 14.6% in the first quarter compared to last year's spending, putting the department on track to save $10.5 million.
As of Monday, Police Superintendent James Hassan said overtime spending was down roughly 18%.
Bok said that while the savings so far are "significant," they are a far cry from what was promised to taxpayers and deeply rooted in shifts in staffing related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Roughly half of overtime costs are "flat" this year, Hassan explained, saying the department should "pat ourselves on the back" for reductions in overtime for special events (down 37%), courts (down 77%) and extended tours (down 12%).
City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George challenged police to be "creative and thoughtful" in how the seek to limit overtime spending.
Councilor Matt O'Malley proposed a "shift-change experiment" assigning 10- or 12-hour shifts to give the city "better coverage at an actual salary and not going into overtime."
Councilor Julia Mejia urged allowing civilians to work construction details, which would provide high-paying jobs at a time of widespread unemployment.
About 27,000 hours of overtime went unfulfilled last quarter, according to police department data.
Councilor Ricardo Arroyo pointed out the potential for double-dipping by officers requesting overtime for court on days when they also work.
Nearly all of these changes would require contractual changes. The city's three main police union contracts expired in June. Mayor Martin Walsh's office said he intends to "make reforms through this bargaining process."
In response to a public outcry for increased police accountability this summer, Walsh and city councilors agreed to cut police overtime, capping it at $48 million for the current fiscal year.
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