A few weeks ago, on April 22, 2006, the Houston Chronicle revealed that one Houston Police Officer had received $100,000 in overtime pay, an officer whose salary for FY 2005 was $72,000. When the story first broke, many people were questioning why Officer William Lindsey, Jr. was still employed. Just two weeks later, on May 3rd, the Houston Chronicle once again came forward with records proving that Officer Lindsey was not the only one who was paid an exorbitant amount of overtime pay. As a matter of fact, there were 22 officers in all of the Houston Police Department who earned over $50,000 in overtime pay last year. The Chronicle announced the 22 – all sergeants of lower-ranking officers – are among more than 100 at those levels who pulled in six-figure incomes last year.
Although City Controller Annise Parker has already been auditing Houston Police Department’s productivity and overtime, the spotlight this story has directed toward the department has caused Parker to focus more intently on the highest-paid employees. Ms. Parker’s goal is to determine whether there is a pattern present with the overtime pay that might suggest several people in the same department are in violation of the Houston Police Department’s overtime policy. The department policy allows any officer to hold other jobs as well as work overtime for the department (usually this time is spent in court), but there is a limit as to how much any one officer can work. The department has strict guidelines to ensure the officers out in the field are well rested and fit for work, so there is an 80-hour rule – meaning all the hours they work in a week, whether they are billed to HPD or another company, cannot exceed 80 hours unless that officer has a supervisor’s permission to do so.
Many have questioned why the Houston Police Department’s spending on overtime went up by more than 50 percent (from $20 million to $31 million) from the year before – the response has been that much of the overtime was chalked up to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the relief efforts in their wake. While this may be where most of the overtime pay was spent, Officer Lindsey and a few others in his department have received over $50,000 in overtime pay for a few years in a row. For seven of these officers, their overtime pay accounted for more than half of their overall pay. Others still maintain that the hours put in by these dedicated officers are legitimate and the officers more than deserve the money they earn.
Few, if any, will argue that police officers are over-paid for the protection they secure for the citizens of their cities. However, Ms. Parker’s job is to make sure these officers are not taking advantage of and violating the overtime policy that is created to compensate those officers willing and able to serve the public honestly and to make sure that those whose job it is to “serve and protect” are fit physically and emotionally for the task, and lives, at hand.