The Honolulu Police Department said on Thursday that it spent nearly $40 million on overtime in fiscal year 2020, more than double the amount from five years earlier.

And the department has already spent nearly $26 million on overtime in fiscal year 2021, which ends on June 30. If the department continues at its current rate of overtime spending, HPD could hit about $34 million in overtime costs this year, lower than the prior year but above the average over the past decade.

“When (former Mayor Kirk Caldwell) issued the emergency proclamation, it fell to HPD to enforce the restrictions and many officers worked overtime to conduct COVID-related enforcement,” HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said in an email.

HPD overtime costs have skyrocketed during Chief Susan Ballard’s tenure. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Some of the department’s overtime costs were covered by CARES Act dollars, federal funds the city received to address the pandemic.

A breakdown provided by HPD on Thursday reflects about $1 million in CARES funds spent on overtime in fiscal year 2020 and approximately $11.2 million in fiscal year 2021 so far. CARES expenditure data shared previously by the city shows HPD received over $18 million in federal relief money for overtime. However, HPD spokeswoman Michelle Yu said the full amount was not actually spent.

The police department’s overtime spending has been scrutinized in recent months.

City Council Chair Tommy Waters is requesting an audit of the department’s overtime spending. In a draft resolution, he cited the total overtime spent in fiscal year 2019 – about $38 million – and the fact that some officers are able to double their base pay and earn more than the mayor or police chief.

In a statement, Waters said the newest overtime numbers highlight the necessity of the audit he requested.

“This audit will inform both the City Council and the general public as to whether HPD overtime privileges are being abused, and examine whether HPD’s current policies are leading to the fair and equitable distribution of such overtime to all HPD officers, rather than just to certain HPD officers,” he said.

“The audit will also provide recommendations about what can be done to ensure that overtime abuse does not occur.”

Council Budget Chair Calvin Say has also flagged excessive overtime spending as a long-term financial risk to the city. Pension “spiking,” the practice of employees working extra hours to pad their retirement income, costs taxpayers millions every year in payments to the Hawaii Employee Retirement System. Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s administration has not outlined a plan to address the issue.

The Honolulu Police Commission also identified HPD overtime costs as a major problem in a recent report. Members noted that the department is perpetually understaffed and that officers must often appear in court, sitting around for hours waiting to be called.

HPD has considered and has already taken some steps to address overtime, including lowering officer manpower on some shifts and beats, reallocating resources across districts and improving computer scheduling systems to use overtime more efficiently, according to the commission’s report.

But commissioners recommended additional measures such as increasing recruiting, conducting an internal investigation and working with the prosecutor’s office to make court visits more efficient. The commission also suggested HPD conduct a study on whether increasing officer base pay could help with recruiting and retention and therefore reduce overtime costs.

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