Philadelphia could save at least $7 million a year in police overtime costs if it altered procedures for officers who have to appear in criminal trials and invested in new technology to better coordinate officers’ regular shifts with the time they spend at courthouses, according to a new study commissioned by a state board that oversees the city’s finances.
Court appearances, in which officers are subpoenaed to testify as witnesses to crimes but often spend hours waiting for hearings to begin, are a primary driver of the department’s chronic overtime problems.
The report by the Pennsylvania Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority analyzed the $20.7 million the city spent on police overtime from July 2017 through June 2018 and found that at least $7 million of it and possibly more than $10 million could have been avoided.
For instance, up to $6.5 million could have been saved by limiting the number of officers subpoenaed to those who are essential to the success of the cases, the report said. The biggest cost-saver, at $7.5 million, would have been had the city bought new technology and made better use of its current systems to coordinate officers’ shifts with their appearances in court.
(The total amount the city could save from the policy recommendations listed in the report is lower than the sum of the savings from each because there are overlapping costs involved in the recommendations.)
PICA, a Harrisburg-appointed board that must annually approve the city’s long-term fiscal plans and also makes policy recommendations, has been prodding the city on overtime spending for years.
“PICA has been at the forefront of recent efforts to reduce the City’s overtime costs,” said Kevin Vaughan, who chairs the board.
Capt. Sekou Kinebrew, a spokesperson for the Police Department, declined to comment on the report. “The report, and the recommendations contained therein, are currently under review," he said.
Jane Roh, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office, which often subpoenas officers, said in an email that the DA’s Office has made “significant reforms” in seeking to cut down on unnecessary overtime since Larry Krasner assumed office in 2018.
The office and the police “have significantly reduced court-related overtime in ways that are not fully captured in the details of or the time-frame covered by the PICA report,” Roh said, without detailing the reductions or the potential savings.
Produced by the Chicago-based accounting and consulting firm Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, the report noted that implementing the reforms would require buy-in from several autonomous agencies.
“The Police Department, District Attorney’s Office, and First Judicial District should work collaboratively and implement these recommendations in a timely manner in order to maximize cost savings,” Vaughan said.
Rob Dubow, the city’s finance director and an appointee of Mayor Jim Kenney, noted that police overtime has fallen in recent years but said the administration would explore the report’s recommendations.
“We appreciate PICA doing the report. It’s an area that we think is important to look at,” Dubow said.
Controlling overtime costs has been a struggle for many city agencies in recent years. Across all departments, overtime spending was $178.8 million for the most recent fiscal year, which was about $24.8 million over the original budget but about $600,000 less than the previous year.
Much of that overspending occurred in the Fire Department. Dubow has said the spike in firefighter overtime was driven in part by the department’s ongoing expansion — it is adding seven new companies — and training for new firefighters.
For thousands of non-uniformed city employees, overtime has a ripple effect on spending because it is used to calculate pensions.
About two-thirds of 401 municipal workers who started collecting pensions in 2017 saw their retirement checks boosted by overtime pay in their final years, according to an analysis by The Inquirer this year. Those increases resulted in an extra $17 million in costs to the already-depleted pension fund.