Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Public safety

St. Petersburg police officers boost their salaries with overtime pay

ST. PETERSBURG — John Douglas Jr. is a patrol officer with 22 years on the force. He canvasses shopping centers, downtown and adjacent neighborhoods in between answering calls for help.

Last year, he also was the city's sixth highest paid employee.

Douglas, 49, made $142,996 — more than three assistant chiefs, 10 majors, 11 lieutenants and 45 sergeants, all of whom outrank him.

How did he do it?

Records show he worked a flurry of off-duty assignments for the Tampa Bay Rays and other downtown businesses that doubled his regular pay of $68,203. He worked at such a rate that payroll records show he averaged 64 hours a week, boosting his salary by $74,793. Douglas declined to comment for this story.

"Oh my god," said City Council chairwoman Leslie Curran. "That's just an inordinate amount of money for overtime. It makes me wonder how working those hours affects his ability to perform his regular duties."

Well-regarded by supervisors for his reliability, Douglas is not an isolated case.

Half of the city's officers increased their regular pay last year by more than 20 percent — a boost of more than $12,000 — with overtime in 2011.

But the department's top nine recipients of overtime and extra pay — all men — earned far more than other officers. After Douglas, the next two were:

• Stanley Maybell, a 35-year-old community policing officer, earned $49,416 in overtime and extra pay, adding to a base salary of $59,425 for a total of $108,841 — an increase of 83 percent above his regular pay. He worked an average of 60 hours a week.

• Michael Pawlishen, 32, works in the street crimes unit and earned $40,281 in extra pay and overtime, adding to a base salary of $51,792 for a total of $92,073 — an increase of 78 percent above his regular pay.

"I heard rumors about these pay bonuses," said council member Wengay Newton. "But I didn't know it was that bad."

• • •

Police officers often get extra pay for things they can't control, such as staying late on a breaking case, getting called back into work or for off-duty court attendance.

But there's another type of overtime for which officers volunteer. Many of these off-duty assignments are city events. Some are paid for by private entities. Last year, businesses and nonprofits paid the city $1.1 million to have officers at their events.

Overall, the Police Department paid $5 million for officer overtime. By comparison, the city's 1,200 blue collar employees received $3.2 million and the 285 firefighters got $1 million for overtime.

Overtime can actually save the city money, said Chris Guella, the city's labor relations and compensation manager. Paying overtime saves the city from the expense of hiring new officers, he said, which would cost more in benefits, a patrol car and other equipment.

"The actual savings are significant," Guella said. "And it's a good incentive for those who want it. If they're willing to work that much, God bless them."

Unlike Tampa's Police Department, which has a policy prohibiting officers from working more than 16 hours during a 24-hour period, there are no restrictions on how long St. Petersburg officers can work.

"I can't think of it ever being an issue," St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon said. "Working off duty isn't as stressful as working with regular duty. Working traffic and the baseball game isn't the same intensity as responding to calls for service, so the type of work is different and it's not exhausting."

While federal regulations limit the hours truck drivers and pilots can work, it's left to local agencies to watch over the hours that officers work. Fatigue levels among police run higher than other professions so the hours they work should be monitored closely, said Dennis Kenney, a professor of criminal justice at John Jay College in New York City.

"Working 60 to 70 hours a week, if it happens once, might be okay," said Kenney. "But if it happens on a regular basis, that's terrible."

One concern is that working that much precludes officers from having a life outside of the job, Kenney said. A balanced life helps relieve stress, he said.

But the chief reason for worry is how fatigue affects the human body.

"It's roughly the same effect as being intoxicated," said Kenney, who wrote a study on police fatigue 10 years ago for the U.S. Department of Justice.

"Officers are making judgment calls all day," Kenney said. "That's much harder to do when they're tired. If you're grumpy because you're tired, you're far more likely to get more complaints from the public. Tired officers also get into more accidents."

• • •

Douglas, who joined the department in 1990 and has had strong evaluations throughout his career, increased his salary by 109 percent with extra pay in 2011, much of it coming from off-duty assignments.

He was paid $39,815 for off-duty overtime — the most in the department — which made up more than half of the extra pay he collected. That means half his extra pay came from private businesses. Douglas was one of nine officers who regularly worked inside Tropicana Field for Rays games. He split the season with another officer, Joseph Truong, and they both worked about 40 games inside the dome.

The Trop assignment helped make Truong, 50, the fifth highest overtime earner. Last year, Truong made $68,203 in regular pay, but added $52,536 in overtime. He worked an average of 57 hours a week.

Few officers apply for this Trop assignment, said Sgt. Joseph Pratt, who along with Sgt. Gary Dukeman oversees assigning off-duty overtime.

"It's a big commitment to do it," Pratt said. "Not a lot of people have the time."

Other officers get assigned games depending on anticipated attendance. For instance, more officers work games if the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox are in town than the Kansas City Royals or Seattle Mariners.

Douglas is one of nine officers who always is assigned, regardless of attendance, to guard everything from the players to money inside the stadium, said police spokesman Bill Proffitt.

"If they're close to the players, the team wants consistency," Proffitt said. "If they're working the VIP gate, they know who belongs and who doesn't."

Of his overtime, Douglas earned $17,786 to direct traffic and parking outside the stadium for games in 2011, records show. The city pays officers to direct traffic outside the stadium, the Rays reimburse the city for officers who work inside the Trop.

Douglas is clearly the department's overtime champ. He made $25,000 more in extra time than Maybell, the officer with the next highest extra pay. Douglas was a top earner in prior years, too. Records show that since 2007, Douglas has been paid more than $300,000 in overtime, far more than the officer with the next highest amount.

Getting overtime at such high amounts over long periods of time is problematic, said council member Karl Nurse. Officers get accustomed to making much more than their salaries. If the department ever tries to rein that in, morale would plunge, Nurse said.

"What they've done is they've made this their standard of living," Nurse said. "What would happen if we were to tell him we don't want him to average that much in overtime? It would be a traumatic adjustment for him to make."

Like Curran, Nurse said he was concerned for the safety of officers who work so much.

But Douglas has never had any issues with fatigue, Harmon said.

"He's been doing that for a few years," Harmon said. "I'm not sure why he's been doing that, but I've had no issues with him. It's never impacted his performance."

Overall, Harmon said, he watches for signs of fatigue throughout the department by studying job performance.

"Things I would look for: someone's productivity would wane," Harmon said. "Are they getting curt with people? Are they not responding appropriately?"

But Harmon said he has no system to track officers who habitually work overtime.

"I can't keep up with all my officers," Harmon said. "But exhaustion is something you gauge by performance."

Kenney said it is better if officers are doing less stressful things in their overtime jobs.

"But the bottom line is if they're not sleeping, their bodies aren't recovering," Kenney said.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this story.

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