ABC2 Investigators find highest paid city employees are everyday police officers

BALTIMORE - The Baltimore Police Department routinely points to a figure of $23 million dollars as the amount it spends on overtime each year.  But ABC2 Investigators found out the actual total spent on OT is much higher, with some officers taking home tens of thousands of dollars in overtime. 

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On any given Sunday you'll find them.  A team, in uniform, on the field at M&T Bank Stadium.  But we're not talking about the men in purple, standing in formation.  Instead, this story is about the men and women in blue, stationed along the sideline. 

Providing police coverage for the Ravens weekly games is considered a plum assignment by many, not just because of the view, but also the pay.  For many Baltimore Police officers, those Sunday shifts are overtime.

Those games, as well as special events including the NFL Kickoff concert in the Inner Harbor, demand more city police at a cost.  And all that overtime adds up.  Baltimore City Councilman Brandon Scott says it's an issue of concern, telling ABC2, "For me there's always cause for alarm when there's taxpayer dollars, no matter if it's $5 or $5 million."

And with police overtime the city police department's budget office says we're talking five times five million for fiscal 2013, with $25 million in spending if you include expenses incurred during Hurricane Sandy.  But ABC2 Investigators found the total of all overtime accrued by city police officers is actually much higher.

We began examining the spending by looking at the City Employee Salary Database for fiscal 2013, which indicated active police officers took home more than $30 million in overtime – a substantial difference from what the department says it spent. 

After we began questioning police about the figures, the department explained additional overtime spending is included within the budget; it's just listed as separate items.  That $25 million figure includes overtime the department attributes to staff shortages, attrition and targeted crime suppression.  But that sum doesn't count the more than $4 million the department says it spends in overtime court appearances for officers or the additional millions spent for overtime covering sports and special events. 

BPD's Chief Financial Officer says some of the overtime for sporting events is reimbursed by outside agencies.  The overtime for officers who work the streets outside sporting events and special events is not, although it's separated out from daily OT.  The CFO also tells ABC2 the overtime spent on court appearances is listed in a separate line item in the budget so it's not grouped in with the daily overtime spending.

Regardless of when or where it's worked, many officers are putting in long hours and taking home large checks as a result.   The starting salary for a Baltimore Police officer according to information posted on the Fraternal Order of Police website is $43,000. ABC2 Investigators looked at information in the city's salary database and found at least 100 active officers on the force made at least that, just in overtime.

But some officers made even more, pulling in upwards of $60,000, $80,000 even $100,000, in overtime, putting them at the top of the list of all city employees. 

Detective Julie Pitochelli is among them.  She's the department's highest paid employee, making $110,000 in what the database indicates is overtime in fiscal 2013.  When you add in her $67,000 base salary, Pitochelli ended the year making more than Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, City Solicitor George Nilson, and even her boss, Commissioner Anthony Batts, who made $137,350 in the nearly 10 months he was on the job in fiscal 2013.

We took our numbers to FOP President Bob Cherry, asking his thoughts about officers who accrue large amounts of overtime.  He says, "It looks good on paper but to make that kind of money with the hours you've got to put in, you don't have a life."

That is part of the concern Cherry has for officers in the city.  As a homicide detective, he understands the strain created by their job.  And for some, it's considerable.  ABC2 Investigators did the math and discovered that for an officer like Detective Pitochelli to make that much money, she'd potentially have to work more than 2,000 hours of overtime a year.  That's more than 40 hours per week on top of her regular shift.

And no one doubts she did.  In fact, Pitochelli and many other officers on the force may have little choice.  On a regular basis, they hear the call on the scanners requesting officers for overtime shifts.  In some cases, officers tell us their scheduled leave is canceled because they're needed to fill shifts. 

Staff shortages, the police department says, often leave them searching for patrol officers on a regular basis.  And while investigations, arrests, transcriptions and other work certainly add millions to the BPD's OT tab, Judy Pal, Batts' Chief of Staff, says simply putting cops in cars to fill each shift accounts for as much as 65% of the department's spending.  She says, "We know we need the people on the street, no question.  But we need to find ways to manage it better."

There's a need for better management according to Pal because it's not just a matter of spending, it's a question of safety.   The department says fatigued officers use more sick leave, practice inappropriate uses of force more frequently and have more accidents.  Pal says, "They're making life and death decisions.  They need to be sharp."

It could be tough considering their workload.  ABC2 Investigators crunched the numbers for the highest paid city officers and determined they'd have to work an average of 30 hours of OT a week to make their current wage.  That's at least a 70 hour work week doing the most dangerous job in the city. Councilman Brandon Scott considers that cause for concern, saying, "You don't want someone out there tired having to do the job they have to do to protect and serve."

The department has made changes it feels increase officer safety.  In June Commissioner Batts instituted a new policy limiting work for officers to 75 hours per week and 16 hours per day.  That includes their regular shift, secondary work, daily overtime and special details.  Pal says, "Some people are working extraordinary hours but we have to.  Our number one commitment is to keep the people of this city safe.  But what we have to do better is using technology and using our management skills and our policies that ensure that officers are safe on the street."

DATABASE | Baltimore City police pay (2013)

Cherry and the FOP agree there's a need for change.  Cherry believes a shift in how officers are deployed around the city is necessary .  He tells ABC2, "It's not just about overtime.  What you guys are touching on here is one little piece of a much bigger problem and a bigger puzzle that the city for years has put on the back burner."

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