A recent audit report of the Department of Emergency Services and Police Protection recommended that the department decrease State Police overtime hours which cost the department more than $26 million in 2019.
The report found that 80 officers — in 3 barracks and 4 other locations where overtime had increased substantially in the past year — were earning between $50,968 to $190,677 in overtime pay — anywhere from 100 to 244 percent of their base salaries. The audit also found 3,114 instances in which these same officers worked between 15 and 29.5 hours in one day.
The report recommended that the department increase its staff to save on both short-term and long-term costs. It also raised the concern that overworked staff could expose the department to and public to a greater risk of error.
“Moreover,” the report continued, “working long hours for multiple days increases the risk of fatigue, health problems, and injuries.”
The department incurred $26,254,360 in overtime costs in the 2019 fiscal year, an increase from $19,733,596 in the previous year, according to the report.
In a statement replying to the audit, the department said that while they agreed with the need to hire more officers, the ability to do so depends on a number of factors, including approval from the legislature, funding, and being able to attract qualified applicants who can complete the necessary training and background check.
Connecticut State Police Union Executive Director Andrew Matthews said that the state “can’t have it both ways,” cutting the police force and then asking troopers not to work overtime.
He said that over the last 10 years, the state has gone from employing more than 1200 troopers to the current 896 in an effort to save money. The natural outcome, he said, was the increased overtime for the officers.
“It’s not the employees’ fault that the state has insufficiently maintained the staffing levels,” said Matthews.
According to Matthews, the ideal number of troopers for the state to employ would fall between 1150 and 1200.
Matthews also said that police overtime is sometimes inevitable. For example, the first 48 hours after a homicide are critical, and detectives may need to work long hours.
The department said that officers were allowed to work up to 18 ½ hours per day and sometimes more in emergency situations.
Tyler Van Buren, a spokesperson for the Office of the Comptroller, explained in an email that the amount of overtime an officer works will also impact the amount of his hazardous duty pension. A pension is based on two things: the years an officer has been on the force and the officer’s final average salary, which overtime pay would increase.
Van Buren said that there are some restrictions, however. There is a cap of 150 percent on the amount of overtime that can be included in the pension calculations, and certain overtime, such as that for highway construction, is not included at all.
In 2017, the state changed the calculation for pensions from the average of the three years with the highest earnings to an average of earnings over 25 years, further limiting the amount that overtime will affect pensions.
The department said in reply to the audit that it was working to recruit more police officers and planned to double the size of its police recruit training classes, but Trooper 1st class Christine Jeltema of the State Police Public Information Office, said that the ability to recruit depended largely on funding from the state.
“If it was up to us, we would love to have multiple classes at a time,” said Jeltema.
This year, the department is scheduled to graduate 83 recruits.
A spokesman from the Office of Policy Management said that he was unable to comment on the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, but that the governor has included funding for two state trooper classes in the budget for fiscal year 2021.