SAN JOSE, Calif. - Scores of San Jose police are making six figures from overtime pay due to a shortage of sworn officers, and it's straining the city's tight budget.
The city paid out $58 million in overtime to San Jose Police Department officers last fiscal year, according to City Auditor Joe Rois--a 19% spike compared to the $47 million in the city's 2021 audit. Since 2009, police overtime spending has increased by more than 300%, and the city is trying to get it under control with a budget deficit looming.
The city is operating under a budget surplus this year, but is looking at an $18.8 million forecasted budget shortfall next year and has already had to make service cuts stemming from new union deals.
Rois' report at last week's San Jose City Council meeting attributed the 2022 overtime spending increase to a high number of sworn vacancies--9.4% as of August, up from 2.56% the previous year. This year's budget allocated $2.9 million toward creating 31 staff positions and $1.3 million in hiring bonuses and strategies to add and retain officers, but the increase in funding has yet to show real results.
The audit recommends shoring up city processes, including better controls to reduce overtime for police, in an effort to capture nearly $21 million in savings and revenue citywide. Councilmember Pam Foley said cutting back on overtime has been talked about for the last five years--the entire time she's been on council--and wants to see a plan.
"It's obviously a people power issue," Foley said. "But there are other things we could be doing such as reassigning some of the positions that sworn officers are doing to community service officers ... I'm just worried about the budgetary impact (of overtime)."
The city has also earmarked $5 million from its "hire ahead" program that proactively recruits new officers before positions become vacant. The money sits in reserve to be used contingent on city council approval. Tapping into this fund can only happen if vacancy savings can't cover overtime costs, according to the city manager's office.
The San Jose Police Officers' Association did not respond to requests for comment.
In addition to a shortage of officers, which is causing a longer response to service calls, Assistant City Manager Lee Wilcox told councilmembers that police are spending more time in court.
"Courts are still backed up because of COVID. We have officers that should go to court for an hour or two, they're there for eight hours," Wilcox said.
Public safety employees are the only hires making more than $500,000 annually. Of the top 100 highest-paid city employees, 69 are in the police department.
Last year, some sworn officers made more than four times the average annual overtime pay of $41,201 department-wide. Fifty-six low-ranking officers earned more than $100,000 in overtime last year, some more than their base salaries.
One police sergeant made $201,000 in overtime pay last year, 122% of base salary. The highest-paid officer in San Jose last year, a lieutenant, received $528,000 in total compensation. They earned nearly $200,000 in overtime pay, above base salary.
To mitigate the excessive overtime issue, an SJPD spokesperson said the goal is to hire more police officers to fill vacancies that are often only covered by overtime.
"We're always looking for alternatives to manage overtime spending," the spokesperson told San Jose Spotlight.
The department spokesperson said division captains and managers have been reporting on overtime use quarterly for more than a year. The auditor's report mentions a new timecard system the police department will pilot to better track and automate overtime rules, but the spokesperson said the program is not finalized and details are still being worked out.