An overreliance on overtime has worn out Portland police officers, leaving the force susceptible to burnout and on-the-job injuries, according to a report out Tuesday from the Portland City Auditor.
The audit found officers cumulatively worked more than 240,000 extra hours in 2018. In one extreme case, a patrol officer worked 97 hours over seven days — more than double a regular workweek.
In response to the audit, Chief Of Police Danielle Outlaw called the bureau’s reliance on overtime “a significant issue” they were well aware of, rooted in a severe staffing shortage.
“While we are always looking for ways to better manage the use of overtime, the bulk of our overtime expenditure is driven by personnel shortages,” Outlaw wrote in a letter addressed to City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero.
The audit called this reasoning “faulty,” and said the numbers presented to City Council to back up the “personnel shortage” explanation tell “an incomplete and inaccurate story.” Instead, the report points the finger at poor management. The report says commanders in charge of the precincts, who are supposed to monitor reports to gauge overtime trends, are being left in the dark as these reports aren’t being produced.
“If sergeants had access to timely reports, they could have determined whether the unusual overtime was caused by operational needs or improper timekeeping,” the report reads.
Auditors also laid some of the blame for the 242,000 overtime hours last year on a faulty time-keeping system that did not reflect an officer’s shift assignments or who authorized the overtime.
“We found that inadequate data collection and reporting limited police supervisors’ ability to effectively control overtime for patrol officers,” the report states.
While the audit critiques the high levels of police overtime in 2018, it acknowledges that the numbers are actually down slightly from 2017, when police logged more than 247,000 overtime hours.
The audit suggests putting a hard limit on how much overtime officers can work, similar to police forces in Denver and San Francisco. Seattle also has an overtime cap, but at 50 hours beyond the standard 40-hour workweek auditors were skeptical, writing that it’s “so high it may not be useful to prevent officer fatigue.”
It’s not just extra patrol shifts officers are picking up. The audit found officers may be drained by the secondary jobs the bureau permits officers to pick up on the side.
The bureau offers a secondary employment program, where private employers contract with the bureau to use officers and sergeants as security at events like concerts, sporting events and festivals. The bureau pays officers at an overtime rate and bills the outside employers for the costs.
Officers are only allowed to work 20 hours per week doing these outside jobs. But the audit said the rule is seldom enforced with 14 officers or sergeants violating the limit 39 times in 2018. However, the audit said that in this case again, the problem was worse in 2017. Officers worked 30% more hours of “secondary employment” in 2017 than last year.
In an effort to rein in overtime usage, auditors recommend staff provide supervisors with reports on overtime usage, the bureau improve data collection and begin placing limits on overtime.