Police overtime is expected to break the million dollar mark in West Orange this year.
But while some officers peg the figure to , township administrators contend there's no direct correlation between overtime and the number of employed officers.
Mayor Robert Parisi said the extra costs are largely the fault of foul weather, including and the . "Overtime is more a response to serving in a public safety capacity," he told Patch. "You can't predict what's going to happen."
As of mid-November, police overtime exceeded $900,000 — a more than $100,000 increase from last year.
West Orange Chief Financial Officer John Gross told Patch police overtime is expected to total between $1,009,918 and $1,102,434 this year. "From my experience … it's not anywhere near out of line," Gross said, referring to the amount of overtime that's accumulated so far.
Michael Cassidy, the township's patrolmen's benevolent association vice president and a police officer, argued that though unplanned emergencies spike overtime costs, the bulk of the bill this year was due to .
In March, the township laid off eight police officers and demoted 16 others to help plug a $3.4 million budget gap. The force now has one chief, one deputy chief, three captains, six lieutenants, 19 sergeants and 66 officers for a total of 96. In 2010, the number of total officers was 110, with two officers on leave. In 2009, the total number was 119.
"The storms were unexpected but when you're down to minimum manpower overall, you have nowhere to pull from," Cassidy said. He said most of the cost is coming from sergeant overtime, adding that the demotions severely reduced supervisory staff. Re-promoting officers would offset spiraling costs.
"If you had to pay overtime, it's a lot cheaper to pay overtime as a patrolman than as a sergeant," Cassidy said.
From 2006 to 2008, overtime costs hovered around $800,000. In 2009, the township topped one million dollars in overtime costs, then dropped to $800,000 in 2010. During those years, the number of officers in West Orange remained above 100.
"I remember a couple summers ago, overtime was $800,000, with 17 more cops than we have now. You have events, you have emergencies, you have catastrophes," Parisi said.
Township officials said filling vacant crossing guard posts is also contributing to overtime. With 47 crossing posts all over the township and only 41 crossing guards, police officers must take over the unmanned posts.
Christopher Jacksic, a West Orange police officer and the township's patrolmen's benevolent association president said vacant crossing posts need officers twice a day Monday through Friday. An officer can't leave the crossing post once he or she is stationed there, often causing delays in response time, he said.
"We're shorthanded," said Jacksic. "There's no end in sight, none, until they bring officers back and re-promote."
Parisi maintained additional manpower would not significantly affect overtime. He said after the October snowstorm, that were manned by officers and firemen around the clock. "If we had any more cops, would that have changed the overtime?" he said.
He contended stacking overtime remains more economical than bringing back laid off officers. Officers in overtime are paid time-and-a-half, with some racking up thousands of dollars every year.
"Employee related costs in the long term far exceed overtime costs," Parisi said. "On average, our health insurance and pension cost the township $45,000 per employee, per year."
Jack Sayers, the township's business administrator, said West Orange saved more than $600,000 this year in salaries and health benefits through lay offs and demotions.
Union representatives though say the savings come at a steep price — rising crime, overtaxed officers and an uptick in overtime.
"We have crime rate skyrocketing, we have officers still trying to do their jobs, because we're so understaffed at this point, sick time is going to go up because people are not getting time off," said Jacksic. "And when sick time goes up, overtime goes up. It's a vicious cycle."
Statistics for the first three quarters of 2011 show crime is up by 36 percent compared to the same period last year. While the number of rapes and aggravated assaults plunged, motor vehicle thefts and burglaries saw a major increase. According to the uniform crime report, increased by 115 percent and saw a 74 percent spike.
Parisi admitted crime has been on the rise in West Orange but said the spike was indicative of the economy. "The crime you're seeing is the direct result of a bad economy … the crime's up all over." Defending the cutbacks, he said the same number of officers are patrolling the streets.
"We have to react to change," he said. "The world changes and we only have so much money to go around."
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