The New York City Police Department is rolling out a computerized system that will allow officers anywhere in the city to volunteer to work extra hours throughout the department, NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell told Newsday.
The special overtime portal is being fine-tuned and will spread the overtime burden that in recent months has ballooned overtime costs by over $100 million beyond the budgeted overtime level of $453 million — a figure that includes both police and civilian employee overtime budgets, the commissioner said.
In an interview, Sewell said she has been continually concerned about morale and officer fatigue at a time when the city has mandated overtime in an effort to get over 1,000 additional officers in the subways in an anti-crime initiative.
The Police Benevolent Association, the city's largest police union, has said that with a higher rate of attrition in the NYPD due to retirement and resignations, officers are close to burnout.
“PBA members are stretched well past our breaking point,” union president Patrick J. Lynch said recently.
Sewell said overtime is needed to help keep residents safe.
“But we have to be able to balance that, and there are ways we are trying to do that so we don’t overwork our officers," she said. "For a while we had to have mandatory overtime in order to address the public safety issue that was happening in the city.”
Officers said mandatory overtime was wreaking havoc in their family lives since attendance at graduations, weddings and other outings sometimes have to be canceled.
To spread the burden, Sewell said she came up with the idea of a portal where officers could volunteer across the city for overtime. Instead of mandatory disruptive overtime, officers are now able to volunteer in other areas outside of their commands to fill the void when more police staffing is needed, the commissioner said.
The new portal appears to be a hit with officers. After trial runs during the Thanksgiving Day Parade and New Year's Eve celebration, the portal became fully operational a week ago and saw 3,400 cops volunteer for overtime, said Chief Ruben Beltran, head of the Information Technology Bureau.
On Monday, some 900 officers signed up after getting notified of overtime slots through email and the portal, explained Insp. Eric Pagan, executive officer of ITB. Eventually, the portal will be accessible through the smartphones officers have.
The system is to be available in total to some 27,000 officers, including detectives, Beltran said.
In a statement, Lynch said the new overtime system is a welcome move but is really only a stopgap measure.
“We thank Commissioner Sewell for hearing our concerns and taking this step to lighten the workload for our members,” Lynch said in a statement to Newsday. “However, everyone recognizes that this is not a permanent solution to the NYPD’s staffing emergency.”
Officers have been working without a new contract for close to six years and they need a new pact that pays them a competitive salary, added Lynch. Both the PBA and the city have been in arbitration over a new contract.