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Rochester tops $16 million in police overtime; some officers double their pay

A photo illustration shows money divided roughly in half with five symbols on one side, and 28 symbols on the other. Each symbol represents 20 Rochester police officers. The five symbols then reflect the 100 Rochester Police Department's 662 sworn offers — just 15% of the workforce — who accounted for 51% of RPD's $16 million overtime bill in the last budget year.
Photo illustration by Jake Walsh
One hundred of the Rochester Police Department's 662 sworn offers — just 15% of the workforce — accounted for 51% of RPD's $16 million overtime bill in the last budget year. Each symbol in the graphic represents 20 Rochester police officers.

Rochester police racked up more than $16 million in overtime during the city’s last budget year – setting a record for total payouts with three officers topping $300,000 in earnings.

The city has struggled with public safety overtime for years, particularly when it comes to police. Crime and staffing shortages have resulted in skyrocketing overtime hours, and continually ballooning police payroll and pension expenses.

A new contract with the Rochester Police Locust Club union this past year was a boon to officers receiving overtime pay – even as the department saw a rare drop in total overtime hours worked.

Mayor Malik Eavns, wearing a suit, shakes hands with Chief Dave Smith, wearing a Rochester Police coat, with people applauding in the back and foreground.
Max Schulte
Mayor Malik Evans named David Smith to serve as Rochester's police chief in July 2022. The 30-year veteran of the department had been serving as interim chief.

Police say they are on track to dramatically cut overtime in the current budget year, which began July 1. But the numbers from last year show:

  • On average, Rochester police officers received $25,969.88 in overtime pay, more than double the average from two years ago.
  • Total overtime spending is nearly twice what it was five years ago.  
  • The outlay dwarfs overtime costs of nearby Buffalo and exceeds the city’s entire library budget by $3 million. 

Still Mayor Malik Evans insists the city is on a trajectory to fix the budget bloat.

“When you look at payroll numbers, you have to also remember that we had a contract that was settled and retro-pay that went back,” Evans said. “So, I don’t need you writing an article making it seem like the largest pay without an asterisk, because there is an asterisk. We did not have a settled contract.”

By the numbers

Mitch Gruber leads the Rochester City Council’s Finance Committee and has made police spending a personal focus since taking office in 2017. He sees last year’s budget spike as not a new development, but part of a trend.

Mitch Gruber
Provided image
City of Rochester
Mitch Gruber

“We are certainly in a more acute moment, but this has been a longstanding issue,” Gruber said. “...These problems are known, and I think what’s particularly challenging about this is that, at least for the past five years, what we’ve heard back from the administration, what Council has heard back, is that the root of addressing this problem is in contract negotiations.”

On June 20 of last year, the Rochester City Council passed Mayor Malik Evans’s budget proposal by a narrow 5-4 margin.

The $675 million budget set aside $109.5 million for police. That’s 16% of total spending, for a police force authorized to have 720 officers. Actual staffing currently hovers around 660.

The new labor contract, replacing one that expired in 2019, awarded every sworn officer in the city annual raises ranging from 3% to 4.5% between 2019 and 2023. Additionally, every officer who worked during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic received a $4,000 bonus.

The total cost of the raises and bonuses clocked in at $18 million.

The resulting shift in RPD payroll pushed expenses well above previous years. Investigator Robert O'Shaughnessy, a 32-year veteran of the department, took home the highest final pay, at $322,717.62. Compare that to a year prior, when Officer Kevin Sizer was the highest-paid officer on the force, earning $255,760.

Individual overtime earnings vary wildly depending on the officer. Officer Angelo Mercone, for example, nearly tripled his salary, with $176,470.80 in overtime pay put on top of his $99,064 base salary.

An analysis of payroll documents found that 24 officers at least doubled their base pay through overtime. Those 24 officers alone accounted for $3,128,395.59 in overtime expenses — or nearly $1 of every $5 spent on overtime by the department.

How Rochester compares

Rising overtime spending is not unique to Rochester. In March, New York City Comptroller Brad Lander issued a report stating the New York Police Department had overspent its overtime budget by nearly double every year for the past three years.

“Over the past decade, NYPD overtime has grown without any regard for what’s in the budget agreed upon by the Mayor and the City Council — and with no accountability for overspending each year by hundreds of millions of dollars,” Lander said in the report. “If New York City had unlimited cash, it would be lovely to allow teachers unlimited overtime to stay after school to help every kid learn to read or pay social workers unlimited overtime to help counsel New Yorkers struggling with mental illness.”

Other nearby cities aren’t seeing nearly the $16 million overtime tab that Rochester recorded.

In Buffalo, where the department has about 70 more officers despite a similar 8% vacancy, police billed $13 million in overtime last year. In Syracuse, which has 300 fewer budgeted officer positions – making the department about three-fifths the size of Rochester, the department is projected to bill $8 million in overtime spending.

Rochester Police Chief David Smith stressed that while the new contract resulted in pay raises that ultimately increased overtime spending, it also set out to curb the sheer amount of overtime.

That is expected to be accomplished through a department reorganization that sought to eliminate some of the highest overtime burdens.

Realigning and cost-saving

The overarching questions on police spending for the Rochester administration are: Is it improving public safety, and how does the city go about curbing costs through recruitment and realignment.

Across the city, spikes in violent and property crime were seen during the pandemic era. While car thefts hit a fever pitch in 2023, most other areas of crime were back to pre-pandemic levels, with some crimes, like robberies, hitting its lowest point in a decade. Chief Smith echoed Mayor Evans in saying the department is on the right track.

The reorganization will streamline the number of different shifts and city sections that must be covered. For example, the former Central Section for downtown was cut. It was by far the smallest of all the sections but the costliest in overtime.

“Anytime they had someone missing, whether it was sick or training or vacation, they were automatically paying overtime,” Smith said. “They were paying overtime as a general course of business.”

While the union contract itself makes no alterations to the department overtime policy, Smith said with the reorganization plan in place, overtime has already fallen precipitously.

“Pretty much the mandatory overtime has come to a halt, which is good,” Smith said.

The city has not yet released overtime figures for the period since the realignment was put into place.

Gruber, the City Council finance chairman, agreed that the overtime costs will likely be quelled a bit under the realignment plan. He also said there is still work to be done to improve the department's fiscal efficiency.

Part of that, he said, is making sure City Council has a seat at the table in watching the trends of overtime spending.

“Council gets reports on all sorts of financials on a quarterly basis, sometimes on a monthly basis,” he said. “There’s no reason why we can’t have a similar reporting structure on how overtime is being addressed.”

Gino Fanelli is an investigative reporter who also covers City Hall. He joined the staff in 2019 by way of the Rochester Business Journal, and formerly served as a watchdog reporter for Gannett in Maryland and a stringer for the Associated Press.