CINCINNATI – A police captain was paid $211,427 last year – despite the fact he worked less than five months before retiring last year.
And two police specialists – the rank just above police officer – earned more than $100,000 each.
The amount many Cincinnati cops take home in their biweekly paycheck can be thousands of dollars more than their base pay, according to a WCPO analysis of 2013 Cincinnati police payroll records. The reasons for the sometimes dramatic spikes in pay are many: A series of contractual requirements with the police union, escalation of violent crime in pockets of the city and the nature of the job where work is inextricably tied to unpredictable crises.
Police Chief Jeffrey Blackwell said overtime spending is practical, particularly compared to the Columbus Police Department, where top overtime recipients could earn up to $70,000 per year. Blackwell came to Cincinnati last year after a 26-year career with the Columbus department.
“It’s really reasonable, and I think we’ve been very prudent with taxpayer dollars, and in fact, we’ve been able to give money back to the city,” he said.
Each city department was asked by the previous city administration during the last budget cycle to trim 1 percent of its expenditures. The police department has done so, Blackwell said, resulting in about $1 million in savings.
In addition, the department has decreased overtime spending by 25 percent since 2009, according to the WCPO analysis.
The 987 employees represented by the Fraternal Order of Police union in 2013 — which include street cops to assistant chiefs — collected the largest chunk of overtime payout. In total, those in the union were paid nearly $4.77 million of the total $4.8 million pie.
Police payroll records, obtained by WCPO under a public records request, show how it is possible for police officers to earn large sums of overtime dollars added to their base salary, even at a time when the police department and other city agencies are facing budgetary demands and struggling to cut back on overtime spending.
“We hold people accountable. The captains know we just don’t have a blank-check mentality, by responding to crime by just throwing dollars at it,” Blackwell said.
Maki Haberfeld, professor and chair of the Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration department at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said that for a police department the size of Cincinnati’s, total overtime spending isn’t high, but she did question how the pie is divided.
“You shouldn’t have such a fraction of officers earning overtime, there is something wrong with the deployment here,” she said. “If they’re not in a specialized task force, why only a select few earn a lot of overtime? This appears to me that the pie is not equally divided.”
Captains Receive Most On Average
Capt. Paul Neudigate – whose $144,921.09 pay made him the highest paid officer in 2013 still working on the force – said there are times he simply runs out of straight-time hours.
“There are a plethora of meetings that make it extremely difficult to attend to the day-to-day operations of the district,” Neudigate told WCPO.
Neudigate’s base salary was $100,100.06. He also earned $23,726.53 in overtime and $21,094.50 in special and reimbursement pay. His overtime total made him the eighth-highest overtime earner in the department last year. He also made nearly $10,000 more in overtime than the next closest captain.
Special pay includes accrued compensatory and leave time. Each officer is granted 120 hours of compensatory time every year on Jan. 1 and each are allowed to roll over compensatory time from year to year without limit, by union contract. Officers are also allowed to sell back for cash up to 80 hours of their earned and accumulated compensatory time per year.
The city also has the option to buy back more compensatory time in September if an officer agrees, according to the police union contract.
The 13 police captains oversee district offices and other department branches, had the highest average overtime per person: $7,159. Six of the 13 captains received more than $5,000 in overtime pay last year. Two retired in 2013,
In addition to Neudigate’s district command duties, he was the SWAT team commander, which required him to be at nearly every SWAT deployment last year.
Neudigate, working in District 5, said he was often called into work on weekends or at 2 a.m. when crime broke.
Neudigate also cited the “unprecedented collaboration” with the University of Cincinnati, which requires a large chunk of his time in addition to his regular captain duties.
“Let’s face it, (UC) is a city amongst itself within one community just in this district; that absorbs a lot of time and resources,” he said. “Unfortunately, you do incur some overtime, it’s the nature of the business – I can’t allow things to sit, they have to be attended to.”
A decrease in crime in 2013 in District 5 demonstrates the fruit of his labor, he said.
Statistics indicate double-digit decreases in all crimes of violence – expect for homicide - in his district when compared with 2012. That police district covers the communities of Clifton Heights, University Heights, Fairview, Camp Washington, Clifton, Northside, Winton Hills, Winton Place, College Hill and Mt. Airy as well as large portion of the main UC campus.
Not All Overtime
Cincinnati police can draw additional pay in several ways: straight overtime, court pay and special pay.
And when it comes to most of the highest paid officers, all combined to boost their base pay.
- Police Specialist Mark Longworth earned the most overtime last year of any officer, totaling $45,382. He took home a total of $118,960.57 last year. Longworth works in the investigative unit in busy District 3, which investigated 203 aggravated assaults, of which 112 shooting incidents, according to the 2013 year-end police crime analysis report. Longworth declined a WCPO interview request.
- Police Specialist Joseph Coombs, who also works in District 3’s investigative unit, earned the second-most overtime with $31,909.02. He earned a total of $104,515.63 last year. Coombs declined a WCPO interview request.
- Police Officer Dennis Zucker, earned the third-most overtime in the department with $28,819.38. He served in the Special Services Section, which includes the fugitive apprehension and the safe streets squads. He earned a total of $105,823.95 in 2013. Zucker did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Fraternal Order of Police union president Police Specialist Kathy Harrell said former Police Chief James Craig required an investigator to show up at all shooting incidents, thus helping to drive up overtime costs.
“Sometimes the investigative units will have more overtime because Craig added additional duties on the investigative units,” Harrell said. “That’s a lot of extra time to work cases.”
Retirement Drives Up Pay
The highest paid officer last year was retired Capt. Stephen Luebbe, who was compensated $211,427. He received a lump sum payment of nearly $173,000 in compensatory time earned over the years. Luebbe retired on May 11, 2013.
Retired Sgt. Jeffrey Hunt retired on Feb. 13 2013, and received a lump sum payment of nearly $130,000 in accrued compensatory and vacation pay.
“Special pay is basically anything that is not regular pay and overtime, you’ve got longevity, sick sell back, accrued comp or vacation pay that’s paid out,” said Ella Topham, the police department’s financial affairs director.
A retiree may sell back half of their accrued vacation time, but must accumulate at least 1,200 hours of banked sick time to be eligible to sell back time, Harrell said.
A retiree can decide whether to receive accrued compensatory time in a lump sum or continue to receive a paycheck after retirement.
“This is not unusual for higher-ranking police officers making more money,” John Jay’s Haberfeld said. “They should be rotated, however, if there is so much overtime involved.
“Otherwise, it demoralizes the force and there could be the in-group and out-group dynamic, it’s very dangerous,” she said.
‘Our Job Is Not Scheduled’
Police officers often get extra pay for things they can't control, such as staying late on a breaking case or to write a report, getting called back into work, known as “recall” or for off-duty court attendance, said Executive Assistant Police Chief Paul Humphries, the department’s No. 2 in command.
“Our job is not scheduled, we don’t know when a bank robbery or homicide is going to be, or when that spectacular auto accident is going to be,” Humphries said. “I don’t want to spend taxpayers money to recall an investigator to look for a stolen bike.”
Officers were allowed to collect overtime for duties such as finishing case-related paperwork and preparing for court cases or appearing in court. Those activities accounted for a large amount of the overtime hours top-earning officers clocked in 2013.
Assistant chiefs are not eligible for overtime, neither is the chief.
Overtime can actually save the city money, officials said. Paying overtime saves the city from the expense of hiring new officers, Humphries said, which would cost more in benefits, a patrol car and other equipment.
“Some of our overtime, when you have recall, may be because of officer shortage,” Topham said. “Most of our overtime is not that. Some of our overtime would go down, but things like court are going to go up because there would be more officers out there making arrests, so I don’t think staffing would make a huge difference in overtime costs.”
Blackwell agreed with Topham’s assessment.
“There definitely won’t be a straight-line correlation,” Blackwell said. “The big picture is if we raise staffing, increasing that pool, the offset in overtime is negligible because we’re not seeing overtime directly related to shortages.”
Court Appearances Drive Up Overtime Total
“Incremental” overtime is paid when an incident occurs toward the end of an officer’s shift that requires the officer to extend beyond a normal work shift, often considered overtime in the private sector.
That kind of overtime accounted for 23 percent of the department’s total overtime spending in the first six months of 2013. From Jan. 1 to June 30, 2013, the department spent just less than $3 million in overtime.
About half was a result of court appearances.
Day-shift officers who appear in court during their regular shift do not receive additional compensation.
Some of the officers earned extra cash because union contracts require that officers testifying in court be paid a minimum of three hours when they’re off duty. When officers are required to testify for court during “dead time,” which is the eight hours after a regular shift ends, they are paid for three hours of regular pay plus an additional two hours of regular pay, according to the union contract.
“That ramps it up some, it adds up, but that’s a contract provision,” Topham said.
Dead time is only for officers who work the night shift, Harrell said.
“Say an officer gets off at 7 a.m., and they got to wait around for court at 8:30 a.m., they get dead time pay,” Harrell said. “We have not had any change in the compensation of dead time in at least 10 to 12 years.”
On the surface, officer compensation for court “appears somewhat inefficient financially,” Blackwell said.
“You have to realize that those (court) provisions in the contract, we got something for in return,” Topham said, who has been the department’s finance director since 2005. “Those provisions were put in there in because we couldn’t afford to give them raises for other things.
“(Those provisions) were expected to cost less and so they made an agreement – it’s not just blatant piling on for the FOP.”
The existing police union contract expires at the end of May and negotiations are underway.
‘That’s A Union Thing’
In most metropolitan cities, Blackwell said, command positions such as captains are not eligible for overtime.
“I think you raise their salaries a little and you eliminate that overtime and I think the city would save money, but that’s a union thing.” Blackwell said.
Blackwell and Topham both said they doubt a change in the overtime structure will come up during contract negotiations because there isn’t enough money in city coffers to raise the base pay of captains to offset what they average in overtime.
“I doubt that it’s a provision that would be negotiated this year,” Topham said.
If a raise to a captain’s base salary was agreed to, that would result in increasing the base pay for the three assistant chiefs and the chief, too, because the existing union contract requires pay differentials for each rank.
A contract provision in effect since 1980 stipulates a 16 percent pay differential between the ranks of lieutenant and captain, and captain and assistant chief.
“In negotiations, they’re not going to give up money,” Topham said. “If you’re going to take overtime away from them, they’re going to want more money – it’s not going to save the city money.”
A change in overtime eligibility for captains may result in a “drop in service,” Blackwell said.
“That’s been an institutional thing here, maybe you get a drop in service, maybe not,” Blackwell said. “A captain may be less willing stay over every night for those meetings and respond to major incidents if there is no compensation.”
Multimedia producer Brian Niesz contributed to this report.