The Independent Budget Office reported that between May 30th and June 12th, New York City paid out $115 million in police overtime. That’s four times more when compared to the same period last year, and comes as Mayor Bill de Blasio warns of drastic budget cuts due to the coronavirus pandemic and pressure builds on officials to “defund the police.”
Augie Aloia, a retired NYPD sergeant and professor of criminal justice at Monroe College in the Bronx, explained that the overtime stemmed largely from the 15-hour days officers worked.
“A lot of cops haven’t had a day off in two, three weeks; they maybe have one day off. They’re always asked to work. If they have a two-day swing at least one of them they’re working. If they have a three-day swing, they’re working at least two of those days. It’s been that way for over a month now,” said Aloia. Swing refers to the alternating number of days off officers have.
Overtime can easily accrue, especially when an officer makes an arrest toward the end of their shift, staying past the end of their tour, which triggers the overtime differential while processing the arrest. The NYPD arrested over 2,500 people during the recent wave of street protests, the most for any mass demonstration event in the city’s history. Roughly 8,000 officers were deployed to enforce a curfew beginning June 1st, double the number originally dispatched.
“Collars for dollars”—the practice of making arrests toward the end of one’s shift in the hopes of securing overtime–has raised eyebrows since the 1990s, when the term was coined. In 2014, four officers were sued after they were accused of making false arrests to boost their overtime pay, racking up 20 hours of overtime that amounted to each officer receiving an extra $1400 in take home pay.
The increase in overtime pay has grown steadily over the years. In some years, retirement and a hefty year of overtime have been intertwined, as in 2013 when the Daily News reported that 13 of the top 20 overtime pay earners had handed in their papers that year to retire.
In 2014, the Daily News reported that the top 20 officers receiving a large number of overtime pay were those who were about to retire, a type of pension padding that is not illegal.
Among the officers accused of abusing the practice the most is Detective Daryl Schwartz, who was named in a lawsuit last year after a motorist claimed he was falsely charged with drunk driving so Schwartz could pad his overtime, according to the Daily News. The article, citing an analysis by the Legal Aid Society, said Schwartz was one of the department’s biggest overtime earners in 2018, making an extra $41,000 in overtime pay.
Police officers are allowed to retire with a pension totaling half their average take-home pay plus overtime accrued over their last three years if they complete 20 years on the job. With the other half of their retirement income coming from Social Security funds, officers can often walk away with the same income they had on the job.
Coinciding with the rise in overtime is an increase in retirements this year, which showed that from May 25th to June 23rd, 272 officers filed for retirement, compared to the 183 officers who began the retirement process the exact same time last year, a 48% increase, according to figures from the NYPD.
Their retirements come as efforts to reallocate $1 billion from the NYPD’s $6 billion yearly budget to other agencies gain traction. The City Council has proposed cuts adding up to $1 billion, or 16% of the NYPD budget, through reductions in overtime costs, removing the School Safety Division from the NYPD’s purview, and reducing the headcount from 36,000 to 33,000. Mayor Bill de Blasio has countered with a smaller $25 million reduction in the NYPD budget, saying, “I don’t believe it is a good idea to reduce the budget of the agency that is here to keep us safe.”
The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.