Editorial: CT State Police overtime needs a watchdog to end 14 straight days of work

Connecticut State Police.

Connecticut State Police.

Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticut Media

An audit report, by nature, sticks to the facts. Even opinions are expressed without emotion.

A new audit of Connecticut State Police overtime includes this judgment: “Our review found that employees worked excessive amounts of overtime.”

An editorial, by contrast, tends to more colorful. Our review finds that the overtime watchdog needs sharper teeth.

It’s hard to miss the detail that a study of 25 employees revealed that 19 of them earned more in overtime than in base pay.

The audit points out that those 19 employees averaged $107,635 in annual salary and $170,788 in overtime.

For those keeping score (which the auditors did not provide) that means they finished the year with an average take home pay of $278,423.

The auditors came to their conclusion that the overtime is excessive based on such cold data. We’d suggest someone should have noticed human beings were working too long on jobs with such high stakes. Police should not be tired.

Consider the deeper details the audit submits.

“Our review also found that 14 state police troopers, a dispatcher, and a program manager worked excessive amounts of overtime during the two-week pay periods tested. In addition to their regular work schedules, which averaged 67 hours per pay period, the 16 employees worked between 88 and 162.5 hours of overtime. The 16 employees worked 3,004.5 hours during the pay periods, with average work schedules of 13.4 hours per day for 14 consecutive days.”

A few things might catch your attention here, including the 14 consecutive days. But the whopper (our word, not the auditors) is the gap in the OT that forms that average of 13.4 hours per day. What about the person who logged 162.5 hours of OT over 14 days, which translates to 11.6 OT hours per day in addition to a regular shift?

Such numbers are not entirely reliable. Some union contracts allow employees to pyramid bonus pay if they work, for example, while collecting vacation pay. So the employee may not be putting in as many literal hours as documented.

Either way, such is the stuff of weak oversight. Or, as the auditors put it, “It is a good business practice to schedule staff in a manner that would reduce unnecessary costs, such as overtime, when possible.”

In the defense of state police, crimes, accidents and misbehavior do not follow a schedule. Police can’t just say they are tired and go home when they want. But in a different universe, union leaders would be bellowing about abusive work hours.

The auditors recommended essentially the same remedies any reasonable person would suggest: Increase staffing levels and implement controls to prevent excessive overtime.

The department responded that “The Division of State Police is actively recruiting and hiring new recruits, troopers, and dispatchers. This will increase staffing levels, helping to control overtime costs.”

Note that the response ignored the detail about adding controls.

Nor does it acknowledge that similar findings were in the audit of the previous two fiscal years.

The state isn’t done paying these bills either, as these overtime costs will hike future pension payments.

We’d suggest an audit isn’t needed every two years. It’s needed every two weeks.