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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane police overtime budget grew by 50% in 2023. It won’t be nearly enough.

When the Spokane City Council approved a $1.2 billion budget for 2023, which included a 50% increase in the overtime budget for the Spokane Police Department, Councilwoman Lori Kinnear was clear.

“You think I was a Grinch last year about overtime?” she said at the Dec. 12 meeting. “If we go over it this time, you’ll hear me yelling all the way to California.”

Six months later, residents of the Golden State should get ready to hear her clarion call.

The Spokane Police Department regularly spends significantly more on overtime than the City Council allocates.

In 2017, the budget was just over $2 million, but the department spent more than $3.3 million, figures that remained relatively steady through 2021. In 2022, the budget had increased to over $2.7 million, but the department’s overtime spending ballooned to nearly $5.6 million.

So in 2023, the allocated overtime budget was bumped up to nearly $4.2 million – not as much as the 2022 peak, but enough to cover the pre-2022 spending and then some. By May 27, the department had already spent $2.7 million on overtime, around 64% of the annual budget. By the end of the year, the department is projected to spend a record-breaking $7.24 million on overtime on uniformed officers, according to estimates from Chief Financial Officer Tanya Wallace. That’s a $3 million overage, a bit less than the department used to spend on officer overtime in an entire year.

The department points to a number of causes, but one in particular: staffing shortages. Additional training, coverage for events returning after the COVID-19 pandemic and new events created in recent years, and mandatory overtime to provide almost constant coverage near the now-empty Camp Hope homeless encampment and the Trent Avenue homeless shelter also have resulted in substantial increases in overtime spending, according to police officials.

By June, the department already had racked up nearly $490,000 of overtime for patrol shift coverage and just shy of $276,000 of overtime pay for Camp Hope and Trent shelter coverage. Officers patrolling Spokane Arena events had earned nearly $115,000 in overtime, while overtime costs for Bloomsday alone were around $80,000.

Other large costs are associated with major crimes, special victims units and SWAT calls, together costing around $354,000 for overtime. Training costs for the tactical and SWAT teams cost over $250,000 in overtime. Duty-related overtime for patrol officers, which includes time spent on tasks such as filing paperwork or responding to a nearby call, has cost an additional $215,000.

Overtime pay varies widely by officer, from under $1,000 to upwards of $60,000 so far this year.

The Spokane Police Department has more than 350 commissioned officer positions, but there are 70 positions unfilled, or else an officer is in training, on leave or otherwise unavailable to fulfill their primary duties, said Assistant Chief Justin Lundgren.

The staffing problem is likely to get worse, Lundgren noted. Hiring has trended downwards since 2020, when 40 officers were onboarded and 14 left the department, according to police data presented Thursday to the City Council. In 2022, the department hired fewer officers than it lost, with 28 new hires but a net decrease of 10 officers.

The department has hired 17 officers this year but has already lost 20 and expects to lose upwards of another 20 by the end of the year. Meanwhile, 65 officers are currently eligible for retirement.

“Over the last few years, we’re trending down on bringing people in, despite emphasizing tremendous effort in recruiting and trying to attract and compete for additional officers,” Lundgren said. “At the same time, we’ve experienced a call for service increase across the board … we’re anticipating we’re going to have additional strain on our patrol.”

Some amount of that increased call volume, about 14% since last year, has been addressed with a major reorganization announced at the start of the year that moved officers from other units into patrol positions, Lundgren said. Training costs have jumped, due to recently increased training requirements mandated by the state and to training officers newly moved into patrol positions, Lundgren added.

Longterm, Lundgren said a renewed focus on recruitment is necessary to reduce overtime. A contract with the Spokane Police Guild likely to be approved soon that includes substantial base pay increases and incentives for lateral hires will help with recruitment, he said. Going forward, Lundgren suggested – as police department officials have regularly done in the past – that the City Council consider authorizing take-home police vehicles, which Lundgren said would make the department more competitive with surrounding agencies.

Lungren also said the department should reassign a sergeant to fulltime hiring and recruitment duties, as well as add a recruitment project employee.

Department spokeswoman Julie Humphreys said Camp Hope was one of the largest contributors to the massive spike in overtime costs in 2022 and this year.

The four officers who have earned the most overtime so far this year, between $45,000 and $67,000, all earned more overtime for coverage at Camp Hope and the Trent shelter than for any other single duty. Officer William Workman, who is currently the top overtime earner in the department at $67,021, has earned nearly $45,500 in overtime from Camp Hope and shelter coverage.

Kinnear acknowledged the department’s staffing problems, but argued the city needs to be more creative about recruiting. She also questioned whether the department has demonstrated the ability to rein in its own spending.

“We can do better,” she said. “We have to do better.

“It puts us in a strange spot, where you can’t say no to overtime because they’ve already gone over time,” she added. “So what do you say? Sorry, we’re not going to fund that?”

Kinnear said she believes there needs to be more rigorous and regular reporting from departments, not just the police, showing the status of overtime spending . She added that any reporting requirement would need to have teeth, saying city staff have at times not delivered requested or required reports.

“There has to be consequences, and that would be, we’re not going to fund this anymore if we’re not getting reports,” she said.

But Kinnear doubted that this kind of legislative push will happen this year.

“I think there’s too much stuff going on in the city right now,” she added.

With 2024 around the corner, Kinnear and others on the council are considering ways to tamp down on costs for providing police protection to presidential candidates who might visit town. In 2016, the Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump campaigns racked up around $400,000 in costs for police protection, Kinnear said.

“They were sent bills,” she said. “They probably just laughed.”