The Cincinnati Police Department, best known nationally for the 2001 killing of an unarmed black man that sparked days of rioting, costs Queen City taxpayers a lot of money for overtime pay. Is it because Cincinnati is undergoing the sort of crime wave that pervades Gotham City in Batman comics? Well, no. It's partly because the cops who do event planning work during the week and then get overtime on the weekends to cover things such as the Oktoberfest and Taste of Cincinnati.
From hometown paper The Enquirer:
Assuming the [Special Events] unit members accrue overtime during December at roughly the rate they did earlier this year, that would raise the year's total to about $95,000, nearly enough to hire an additional officer....
One-hundred-fifty-one Cincinnati police officers - about one in seven - had received more than $10,000 in overtime through Dec. 1, the city records show. Of them, 15 had drawn more than $20,000 in overtime.
The Special Events Unit is a prism through which broader questions pass about how so much overtime is earned.
To some skeptics, the unit's schedule violates business principles - and common sense. It is as illogical, they say, as giving Sundays off to a Cincinnati Bengals beat writer and then paying him overtime to report on Sunday games.
"This is the kind of thing you used to see from the old political machines," said Steve Erie, a political science professor and director of urban studies at the University of California, San Diego.
So why is this happening? Two reasons, at least. First is old-fashioned organizational featherbedding:
[The head of the Special Events Unit] insists that her team's Monday-to-Friday work weeks are necessary to handle the considerable details - police staffing levels, street closings and temporary liquor licenses, among others - involved in staging major events such as Oktoberfest or Riverfest, as well as other smaller community events.
"Phone calls come in probably 10 times a day," she said. "It's not like we're sitting here with nothing to do. It's important to have someone in the office to take the calls and deal with the requests when they come in."
And then there are work rules, requested by the cops in their collective bargaining agreement and accepted by a pliant city council:
The Fraternal Order of Police contract, in fact, partly explains the current situation.
Under it, the city may change an officer's regularly scheduled off days only twice a year without paying overtime. There are two exceptions: Riverfest and the Black Family Reunion, for which officers are guaranteed overtime if their days off or hours are changed to work at those events. The city charges the Black Family Reunion 10 percent of its festival-related costs, and some other events also partly reimburse the city.
The limited options for switching officers' days off means that the Cincinnati Police Department is severely restricted in its ability to alter work schedules in the way that commonly occurs in the private sector to adjust to changing needs - and to avoid excessive overtime.
To his credit, the new chief of the CPD, James Craig, is doing an audit of department practices to ferret out all sorts of inefficiencies and loopholes that add to up to real dough while not in any way securing the city's residents, streets, or properties. It's Craig's audit team, in fact, that called attention to this situation.
Cincinnati is a thoroughly representative city, whether we're talking the Edifice Complex, leaking population, or ineffective education. What's happening in a place like this is multiplied 10,000 times across America and it's well past time that every municipality in every state in the country start combing through all of its public-sector work practices and contracts to dig out arrangements that are indefensible during flush times and disastrous during tough ones.
It won't be easy: In Ohio and elsewhere, politicians who train their sites on public safety workers such as cops and firemen typically get pummeled in the press and via high-dollar campaigns questioning their sanity (read: temerity for suggesting that cops and firemen, just like other public-sector workers, are typically overpaid relative to private-sector counterparts).
Going after soft deals for cops and firemen is the state and local equivalent of going after defense at the national level. Precisely because people are slow to question that sort of spending, it has over the years mutated into a massive black hole for tax dollars and accountability. Indeed, it's exactly because such spending is taken for granted as a public expense that it needs to be looked at the most closely.
Sandy Springs, Georgia is the "town that outsourced everything." Not all burgs can do that, but they all can learn a lot from revisiting the idea that municipal government is not first and foremost a revenue engine for the people who direct it: