Dozens of Oakland police officers earn six-figure overtime payments, busting city budget
This story appeared in Oakland North on April 28, 2021.
By Noah Baustin (’22)
While Oakland leaders pledged last summer to cut the Police Department budget in half, the department continued its trend of overspending, driven by large police overtime costs that added hundreds of thousands of dollars to some officers’ paychecks.
The city spent more than $35 million on police overtime in 2020, enabling over 100 officers to more than double their base salaries and putting total police personnel costs well above $250 million.
City salary data shows that 73 officers and 63 sergeants earned more than Mayor Libby Schaaf, whose compensation package, including pay and benefits, was $337,140.
On the top of that list was Officer Timothy S. Dolan, who was the department’s highest compensated and the second highest compensated employee of the entire city. The data shows that Dolan’s base salary in 2020 was $134,080, but he earned over $301,000 in overtime pay. His compensation package, including health care and payments the city made into his pension fund, totaled $589,809.
The city has investigated the possibility that some of the highest earning OPD employees were taking advantage of the overtime system, said City Administrator Ed Reiskin. But no abuse was found, as far as he was aware. He said that short staffing, not abuse of the overtime system, is driving overtime spending.
“My concern isn’t one officer making a lot of money. That’s not inherently problematic,” Reiskin said in an interview. “If people are working so much that they can’t be effective and work safely, that’s my concern.”
Many OPD employees brought in significant portions of their income through overtime work, lump sum payments, and other pay. After factoring out employees who earned a base salary below $20,000, the data shows that 107 OPD employees were paid more than double their base salary in 2020. Seventeen OPD employees were paid over triple their base salary, and five employees were paid quadruple their base salary. That includes police officer Malcolm E. Miller, who brought home $362,000 last year, though his base salary was only $82,000.
Last year, 64 OPD employees made over $100,000 in overtime alone.
By combining the 2020 data with historical salary data published by Transparent California, Oakland North determined that Dolan and Miller are just two of 41 OPD employees who have averaged six figures of overtime pay in the past three years.
Miller, Dolan, and all other police personnel named in this story did not respond to emails requesting comment. The police department also would not comment and declined Oakland North’s requests to interview the officers.
Sgt. Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association, said that logging as many overtime hours as these top earners do requires signing up for many voluntary assignments. The department regularly sends out emails to staff looking for officers willing to work overtime on special details or at public events, like Oakland A’s games.
“When you get to those kinds of numbers, you’re making a choice,” Donelan said.
The city has policies intended to prevent officers from getting overworked. For example, OPD’s overtime policy states that department members who are ordered to work beyond their regular shift are entitled to eight hours of rest before their next assignment begins. Members who work voluntary overtime are also supposed to have at least eight hours of rest between work periods, unless authorized by a commander. They also are supposed to take one day off each week, but a commander can override that guardrail. The policy places the burden of tracking the rest periods on the officer working the voluntary overtime shift, who is supposed to notify their manager.
Donelan said that OPD management waives overtime restrictions to meet demands for services, especially during times of mass demonstrations like the Black Lives Matter protests last year after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Demonstrators called on the city to scale back on police funding, with some advocating abolishing the force. As a result, the city formed a task force to reimagine the department and make recommendations for cutting $150 million from its annual budget. This spring’s budget cycle will determine whether or not those cuts are actually made.
A 2019 city auditor’s investigation into OPD’s overtime use found that many officers worked a staggering number of overtime hours. The audit explained that in the San Francisco Police Department, employees couldn’t work more than 520 overtime hours each year. But in Oakland, 30% of officers passed that limit in the 2017-2018 fiscal year. That year, 24 sworn staff worked more than 1,249 overtime hours, and one member logged 2,600 hours or more of overtime. A typical 40-hours-per-week work year adds up to 2,080 hours, including vacation time.
The auditor recommended that OPD establish an annual limit on how many overtime hours an employee can work in one year. But the administration disagreed, and when OPD implemented its new overtime policy in December, it did not include an annual limit.
A history of spending over budget
For over a decade, OPD has consistently spent millions more than the City Council set aside for it. For example, in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, OPD spent nearly $320 million in total, putting it $32 million over budget.
Much of that overspending has been driven by overtime hours and other personnel spending. In recent years, the department has regularly paid out more than twice as much money for overtime as the council budgeted.
As OPD continued to exceed its overtime budget in 2020, the city’s revenue plummeted due to the pandemic. In February, Oakland Finance Director Margaret O’Brien wrote in a memo that the city is “experiencing a financial crisis.” If the city continues spending at the rate it did in 2020, it will drain its emergency reserve. “This situation puts the City in jeopardy of being unable to pay for its daily operations,” O’Brien wrote. She added that “personnel costs in the Police Department (OPD) is the primary area of overspending in the City’s budget.”
In total, the city spent over $257 million compensating police department employees in 2020, including base salaries, overtime, benefits, and other pay. That was over 35% of citywide personnel spending during the year.
Oakland Councilmember At Large Rebecca Kaplan says that last year’s OPD spending is the latest example of Schaaf and Reiskin disregarding spending restrictions laid out in the city’s budget and adopted by council. In an interview, Kaplan said that Schaaf and Reiskin have given some city departments more than they were budgeted, and others less than they were budgeted, skirting the public budget process.
“Not only are they spending money that wasn’t authorized, and not only is this a violation of democracy, but the extra things that the administrator has been giving [OPD] without council approval are largely things that have nothing to do with public safety,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan pointed out that 2020 was an especially egregious year for OPD’s overtime spending, and she said that a heavy-handed police response to protests last June that took place in the wake of Floyd’s death was to blame.
In a December 2020 memo, then-interim police Chief Susan Manheimer, who has since been replaced by Chief LeRonne Armstrong, wrote that the department spent nearly $2.5 million on protest activity “associated with Minneapolis Solidarity” by the end of June, and another $1.28 million on protest activity throughout the rest of the summer.
Backfilling shifts adds to costs
Demonstrations, however, weren’t the biggest reason for overtime spending last year. Manheimer’s December memo shows that backfill and shift extensions, which are largely used to maintain minimum patrol staffing of 35 officers per shift, had a much larger price tag. Those two categories cost the city $12.8 million in fiscal year 2019-20 and another $9.8 million so far in 2020-21.
Reiskin says that OPD’s reliance on overtime to maintain minimum staffing levels speaks to the core problem: The department is too understaffed to fulfill all the services the city is asking of its police. That forces OPD to fill in the gaps by assigning overtime.
In the December memo, Manheimer wrote that the department had 47 sworn vacancies and 62 professional staff vacancies. The department was budgeted to have 786 sworn personnel when fully staffed. Reiskin said the vacancies are partially due to the challenges of hiring new officers quickly enough to replace employees leaving for retirement or new jobs. Also, as a cost-saving measure, the city has delayed or cancelled police academies that would have brought in new officers.
Reiskin said the authorized size of the department is significantly lower than it is in other cities of comparable population and levels of violent crime. Also, an uptick in homicides this year prompted Armstrong recently to create a special division on violent crime, which he filled by reassigning 60 officers.
Armstrong wrote in a March memo to the City Council that as the department struggles to maintain its minimum patrol staff at 35 officers per shift, there is little capacity to assign officers elsewhere on straight time. For that reason, the department has “become almost entirely reliant on overtime” to address many specialized police details. That includes response teams focused on sideshows, high violent crime areas, homicide operations, Lake Merritt patrol and traffic investigations.
Many overtime assignments come from superiors as orders, Donelan, the union president, said. “The gripe I get more than anything is the guy who doesn’t want to work overtime,” he said.
Donelan explained that overtime orders can come in different forms. A watch commander might hold an officer on the clock after realizing that not enough officers are coming in for the next shift. Or the chief might order a “one call” phone notification, which calls up an officer at home and orders them to report to work.
Comp time cited as an issue
The 2019 audit identified another reason for overtime: Officers can choose to receive compensatory time off (comp time) instead of money as reimbursement for working overtime. Since overtime work is compensated at time and a half, an officer working 10 hours of overtime can elect to receive 15 hours of comp time. When they eventually take that paid time off, another officer has to fill in, most likely using overtime.
The audit reported that OPD officers are capped at 300 hours of comp time, the highest limit of any major city in the state. Despite previous warnings from the auditor about the comp time issue, the city failed to address OPD’s high comp time accrual limit during its most recent negotiation with the police officers union. Since comp time accrual is part of the city’s agreement with the union, this system is set in stone until the next contract negotiation in 2024.
The audit noted that one specific officer was mostly responsible for determining the number of officers needed to staff events. The audit didn’t name the officer but said he regularly assigned himself to work special events, and that he was the department’s second highest overtime earner for five years in a row.
Cuts for this year
In December, the administration implemented service cuts across departments to get a handle on the city’s overspending. Many of those cuts were to OPD overtime work, including sideshow enforcement, and some homicide and ceasefire operations. Those personnel were reassigned to supplement patrol squads with vacancies.
The cuts had real world impacts. For example, OPD reduced the police presence in the Chinatown neighborhood shortly before a streak of attacks against Asian people in Oakland and across the country left community members concerned for their safety.
On April 12, the City Council passed a resolution to use federal relief funding to reverse some of the service cuts. After a four-month hiatus, the city will restore OPD community safety ambassadors in Chinatown and other neighborhoods, foot-patrol officers, and ceasefire operations. This came as a wave of violence hit the city in the first quarter of 2021, resulting in 34 homicides, triple the number recorded in the first quarter of last year.
“The challenge within the Police Department is that everything every day is the highest community priority,” Donelon said. “Our service load is continuing to rise.”
That would change if the City Council adopts the recommendations of the Reimagining Public Safety Taskforce. Then, such things as internal affairs investigations, the 911 call center, mental health calls and special event staffing would shift from police to civilian workers.
Noah Baustin is a research assistant at the Investigative Reporting Program.