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Norwalk Police overtime is well earned, saves city money, some Council members say

NORWALK, Conn. – It’s apparent that the price of policing is high, with 37 of the 2014 top 100 city of Norwalk wage earners being officers in the police department, but overtime actually saves Norwalk taxpayers money, city officials said Tuesday.

“I can’t wrap my head around how does a police officer, a rank and file officer, reach $191,000, without asking questions. I know some folks will say these are police officers, we need to rubber stamp this contract, however, that’s not what the citizens of Norwalk expect,” said Councilman David Watts (D-District A), referring to the recent release of 2014 salaries, which included the information that officer Paul Larsen made $191,863.62 by working special duty assignments and overtime shifts in addition to his full-time employment.

The city gets a 15 percent administrative fee for every hour of extra duty worked by police officers, Sgt. David Orr said at Tuesday’s Council meeting, answering questions posed by Watts in protest of the new Norwalk Police contract. Overtime is often paid for by state and federal funds because it stems from joint operations, when cities and higher level agencies work together to fight crime, Orr said.

“It kind of skews everybody’s opinion, that they’re looking at the average police officer that is out there, that these guys are rolling in gravy. We just found out, and I am glad we are talking about it, that is not the case,” Council President Jerry Petrini (R-District D) said after a prolonged discussion of the topic.

While Watts emphasized the 37-of-100 figure, Mayor Harry Rilling said 80 of the top 100 earners in Stamford are police officers. That checks out – Mayor David Martin issued a press release in February that said just that, in reference to 2013.

While it’s startling to some that Norwalk Police officer Russell Ouellette earned $213,076.63 and Lt. Ashley Gonzalez earned $197,924.44 in 2014, Stamford Lt. Diedrich Hohn did much better in 2013, raking in $288,699, with $22,704 in extra duty pay, according to the releases. Stamford Sgt. Richard Phelan earned $225,193 and Stamford Sgt. Joseph Kennedy earned $220,145, with $32,550 and $32,232 coming from extra duty pay, respectively.

Statistics from Bridgeport are harder to find. In 2011, 18 police officers were in the top 50 city money earners and 32 of the top 100, the Connecticut Post reports. In 2012, Bridgeport Sgt. Jessica Tillson earned $179,119, Lt. Lonnie Blackwell earned $178,607, Sgt. Michael Sample earned $172,753, Sgt. John Gale earned $169,192 and Lt. Kevin Gilleran earned $167,939, according to Only in Bridgeport.

“If you take the away the hyperbole, what happens in other towns and how we all feel about police officers – this is very painful for us to do because we love and respect our police officers – however this is business,” Watts said Tuesday. “This isn’t about whether or not we support police officers or not, this is about doing our due diligence on our contract.”

The high earnings sound great, but, “That’s somebody who didn’t spend one weekend or one Christmas or one Thanksgiving with their family because they were out working,” Councilwoman Michelle Maggio (R-District C) said.

“Personally, with all the cops that are getting shot at left and right, I don’t think you could pay me enough to do the job right now,” Maggio said.

“Jesus Christ,” said Watts, a Yale Divinity School graduate.

“Is he here? I didn’t see him,” Maggio said.

“The police shouldn’t have had to come to Council for a special appropriation for overtime,” Watts said, but Finance Committee Chairman Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said those special appropriations are planned into the budget.

“It’s impossible to budget for police activities because we don’t know what is going to happen in the course of a year,” Kimmel said – such as a visit from the president.

Often, the overtime comes from federal funds, asset forfeiture funds or state funds, Kimmel said.

“When officers are receiving overtime it’s because there are vacancies or shortages in the department and it actually saves the city money in the long run. Now, I’m not saying I am for this, I think it’s a problem … but the overtime does save the city money because there’s no additional costs in benefits, pensions or anything like that,” Kimmel said.

Overtime does not count toward an officer’s pension, Personnel Director Emmet Hibson said.

Norwalk Police Sgt. David Orr, president of the police union.
Norwalk Police Sgt. David Orr, president of the police union.

In response to questions asked by Councilwoman Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B), Orr said the police union in 2012 did an audit of overtime pay.

“Over 92 percent of all overtime earned by Norwalk police officers was private extra duty which was subject to the 15 percent administrative fee which is a benefit to revenue for the city,” Orr said. “Only 8 percent was non-private extra duty, which references grant hires through the federal government and the state, and city overtime, like Board of Ed games.”

In 2012, the overtime added up to $2.9 million, of which 92 percent was extra duty, not paid for by Norwalk tax dollars, he said. There are 175 police officers this year, including the chief and two deputy chiefs.

In 2012, the administrative fees brought $430,000 into the city, Orr said. In 2013, that was $570,000, due to all the work related to construction of the Waypointe development, he said.

“The vast amount of the extra money comes from private contractors,” Rilling said.

Hibson told Watts the only thing he could do would be to try to restrict the number of extra duty or overtime hours officers work.

“Do you really want to fight that battle?” Hibson asked.

“That’s not a tragic issue, it’s an individual issue. These are the number of hours those individuals have worked, those are the number of hours available to be worked,” Hibson said.

Watts asked what the recommended number of police officers is for Norwalk, but Rilling said, “There is no appropriate number.”

Many people refer to FBI statistics but the FBI doesn’t release those, Rilling said. Basically, it’s based on what the community needs, he said.

Rilling said police officers have “awesome responsibilities, really responsibilities that the average person would not want to have to do on a regular basis.”

That includes being out in hurricanes and other bad weather, he said. “The next call you go on you don’t know what you’re going to encounter so the men and women of the police department overall do a wonderful job,” Rilling said.

“Even as a Council member you just can’t fight City Hall – this is apparent,” Watts said. “This contract is not going to change compensation, it’s not going to take any more officers out of that tax bracket. … This contract is a status quo contract. There is nothing in here that is going to control the overtime costs, there is nothing in here for the city to get any more revenue out of the dirt jobs or whatever that comes out of the city.”

Comments

39 responses to “Norwalk Police overtime is well earned, saves city money, some Council members say”

  1. M. Murray’s

    After all this, I still don’t see what David’s specific objection is and what he would change.

  2. Suzanne

    I can’t figure out what Mr. Watts is complaining about: if 92 percent of the overtime hours are actually extra duty hours paid for by contractors and not the City who gets a 15 percent administrative fee and pays nothing toward pensions nor healthcare, where is the “status quo” that makes this bad? I think these “top earners” should have a broken out representation of their salaries: that which they earn for overtime to the department, that which is extra duty and that which is base salary. The current numbers remain inflated and misleading.

  3. Just another view from a Norwalk resident

    I agree with Suzanne that it would much more meaningful to see a breakdown of the total salaries between base salaries, overtime and extra duty. I am not against these officers making more money; I just want to make sure that they are providing the best service in the safest manner each and every day.

    I would also like to know how many hours each of these officers spent working. If truckers and airline pilots are limited in the number of hours they can works each day or week or month, should the City look at limiting the number of hours a police officer can work a day or week both on the job and for these extra work assignments? If some of these officers are working an 8 hour shift then working another 6 to 8 hours directing traffic at a construction site, how effective would they be on their next 8 hour shift? Let’s make sure that all these overtime hours do not put our officers at risk.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Just Another…

      We will see if we can get the breakdown you seek. According to the state’s FOIA, the only obligation is to provide existing documents. Beyond that, providing the info would be at the discretion of the city, eithwe police or finance departments.

      As for the second part, we asked Chief Kulhawik about it in October 2013:

      “The OT question is a complicated one,” Kulhawik said. “There is a breaking point as well as other factors which play into this, but, generally speaking, it is sometimes cheaper to pay OT than to hire additional officers. However, with that said, as I noted, there is a balance that must be managed.”

      It is not just a dollars-and-cents issue, he explained.

      “It also depends on what you expect of the officers. As you add additional duties and assignments such as SRO’s (school resources officers), you need additional bodies to do it,” he said. “For patrol staffing, it is an easier answer, and in those cases the OT can be cheaper as you don’t have the benefits and training and equipment costs. We use this balance in determining the budget and look at both salary figures and overtime when determining how to properly fund at the least expense.”

  4. Bruce Kimmel

    Interesting article.

    The bottom line, as far as Council members were concerned, is that the net cost of the contract for taxpayers each year will be less than 2%. That is deemed a good deal; in the past, we struggled to get net contract costs below 3%. The contract increases health insurance and pension contributions, both of which have been driving our operating budgets upward in recent years.

    It is also important to reiterate that the top base salaries in Norwalk for police officers on the day shift is around $75,000. That qualifies them for affordable housing in Fairfield County. It’s not that they are rolling in money; they need that extra work and overtime.

    And finally, much of the regular overtime paid to officers is from state and federal grants for special joint operations, such as DUI and drug enforcement.

  5. Bill

    Their raises should be tied to the income growth rates of taxpayers for Norwalk, assuming my experience is correct, that would equate to about 0-1% a year. No reason these guys should get higher raises than what taxpayers receive annually.

  6. Suzanne

    Bill, yes there is. Police officers are equipped to deal with dangerous situations that the average taxpayer would have no clue about and, in fact, could cost the average taxpayer their life or injury. I am always a bit humored by comments like yours: just like firefighters, when you need a police officer personally, I bet you don’t worry about their raise then. Protection and presence in difficult neighborhoods among many other challenges a police office or firefighter makes is something every taxpayer depends upon. It costs money. Minus .1% is a ridiculous comparison and has nothing to do with the service police officers provide.

  7. M. Murray’s

    Their is a contractual limit in the number of hours an officer can work per day. I believe that it was 16 hours per day, which can only be exceeded in emergency circumstances. Many police officers have work oriented personalities, and if their were no extra jobs, they would simply take a second job outside the police department, which in fact many already do. The city benefits from these jobs, and brought in an extra $500-600,000 in fees associated with hiring a police officer. And although they are being paid by private contractors, they are out on the streets providing a visible deterrence to crime at no cost to the city.

  8. LWitherspoon

    @Bruce Kimmel

    Some of the the city unions have seen wage freezes for one or more years. Has the Norwalk PD ever seen such a freeze? If not, why not?

    Does the contract maintain the existing incentives for healthy, experienced offers to “retire” and work in law enforcement for another CT town or the State PD? Is it in Norwalk’s best interest to continue this practice which I believe encourages our most experienced officers to leave?

    Lastly, I believe NoN and the Hour have reported on other city union contracts in which the negotiated savings on benefits mostly made up for the cost of wage increases. This contract contains nowhere near that level of savings. Why?

  9. M. Murray’s

    Is the implication here that officers should not be allowed to retire? Not allowed to work somewhere other than Norwalk? I think that Norwalk has actually hired experienced officers that have retired from other police departments. Should this not be allowed either?

  10. dawn

    I repeat. I do not begrudge the police at all.

    But we pay those overtime private work salaries in the costs of the contract. let’s all be honest.

    A special duty police officer in a Norwalk Police car costs a heck of a lot more than some guy in a yellow vest waving a flag. That difference in cost is reflected in the cost of the initial contract.

  11. WOW just WOW

    Mayor Harry Rilling said 80 of the top 100 earners in Stamford are police officers.

    So in other words its ok for Norwalk to waste taxpayer money because Stamford does. If this doesn’t say it all as to why come November Rilling needs to go I don’t know what does. This is what happens when you elect a member of the old boys club.. No out of the box thinking , but more of the same old .

    Or could it be that Rilling has more loyalty towards his brothers in blue than the taxpayer??

  12. WOW just WOW

    Unfortunately we still have some that are no being truthful with the taxpayer and how the taxpayer is paying for every penny of the insane police overtime. Here is what I posted on anther article yesterday that explains it.

    I am amazed that some are still posting the spin that the taxpayer is not paying for the police at construction sites. The fact is that the taxpayer is paying every penny of this waste.
    The bid/contract for city construction jobs has a line item for traffic control . This includes both the amount of hours and the dollar amount (police up to $85.98 per hours plus a city car and city gas)(flagmen about 22 bucks an hour and NO city car and NO city gas.) The TAXPAYER is paying for this construction contract including traffic control. When it is a utility project this extra cost of flagmen vs police officer is included in your utility rate structure. Also as far as the 15 percent surcharge the city collects this barley pays for the car and gas. When you keep in mind that we the taxpayer are paying 100 percent of this police overtime to collect 15 percent this just adds insult to injury.

  13. M. Murray’s

    Once again, there is no “open hole” ordinance in Norwalk like there is in Stamford, Wilton and many other towns. In those locations, any roadwork required the hiring of police officers for traffic control. In Norwalk, companies are allowed to use either flag men or police officers. The contractors choose to use higher paid officers instead of flag men for a variety of reasons. Most utilities write in the cost of an officer into their contracts. If they choose to use flag men in Norwalk, they pocket the difference.

  14. THE TRUTH

    The reason contractors choose police over flagmen is they know if they don’t throw work to the cops that they will not get contract. They also know that they will be harassed by the cops.

  15. Oldtimer

    The fact is contractors use police officers only because their insurance carriers insist on police, if possible, rather than laborers out there with yellow vests and signs. I have travelled all over in the States and in Canada, driving. Different places have different practices. A lot of local road jobs do use flagmen, but never on State roads, or interstates. In parts of Canada and Alaska, flagmen are full time State employees, well paid ($45/hr), with all kinds of benefits, and most are women. All the requests for officers to do “dirt jobs” are not filled because not enough officers volunteer, and contractors then have to use untrained laborers as flagmen. It is enough liability that you never see private security companies competing for these jobs. A police car and a uniformed officer do a lot to encourage careful driving.

  16. THE TRUTH

    I would suggest that when reading the spin from Murray and oldtimer that you keep in mind that they are both retired from the NPD. Thus thier support of the cash cow of construction overtime.
    The reason contractors use cops vs flagmen is do to the reasons I posted above.

  17. M. Murray’s

    I think everyone on here knows I am retired NPD. I have no reason to hide behind a false name. I encourage you to ask contractors and utility workers why they prefer police over flag men. Feel free to post their answers here.

  18. THE TRUTH

    Murray
    Already did that and the answer is what I previously posted. The contractors know if they want to get the job and not be harassed by the police they have to throw work thier way.
    This is no secret.

  19. Scott

    So everything that oldtimer posted is a lie? And everything you posted is The Truth. It sounds more like speculation and opinion.

  20. M. Murray’s

    Really truth??? Answers I have gotten: not in the road enough days a week to justify a full-time employee. Cheaper to pay a cop ton days I need them than a full time employee time and benefits and workers comp when I don’t have enough work for them. Drivers listen to cops and they can get cars moved if we need to have them moved. Drivers ignore our flag men. Insurance company wants them so we avoid liability if flagmen screw up. We never have to worry if they will show up and part time flagmen don’t show up if it is cold or raining. Drivers see the police cars and slow down. We feel safer in bad areas.

  21. THE TRUTH

    Sorry the facts bother you Scott but no need for chilish insults.
    Murray
    Sure thats what you were told when you were standing there in your uniform. However its not the real reason.
    Actually contractors also prefer flagmen as they actually direct traffic vs the cop sitting in the city car playing on his phone.

  22. M. Murray’s

    Sorry. Only one contractor I know feels that way, and he’s had issues because he hasn’t paid taxes to the city

  23. Non partisan

    FYI
    I am a construction manager for a living.
    I use flag man in NYC. Never saw or heard if anyone using police ( and yes- they are available at $75/hr) except for major Crane operations.

    No assumptions, no suppositions, just fact.

  24. Tecdaddy

    For the first time ever I agree with Watts. We should take a harder look and get the facts. It separations between base and overtime would be interesting. Also if I read it correctly did someone say the salary is roughly 75k? So the OT would be about 135k? Wow how much time did he work? I disagree with Michelles comments, about working weekend. Pay me 135 and I will work weekends only…

    There should be a OT luxury tax. Over 50k the admin fee goes up to 25%. Perhaps that will even out the salaries and the young bucks will get some time assuming they give it to more senior staff

    Worth a look.

  25. Oldtimer

    Like I said, practices vary depending on where you are. New York City is a big place. There are places where contractors may use flagmen because it is a bit cheaper and they are not as concerned with reckless drivers ending up in the ditch. Even non-partisan admits he uses police for major crane jobs where traffic control is really important.
    I am neither for or against police working dirt jobs. I have a builder in the family who finds it much easier to use an officer than to pull a laborer off the job to act as flagman, not cheaper, but simpler for him when every laborer scheduled to work is necessary and losing him to direct traffic is a major pain. There are some officers who take every overtime job they can and some who avoid it. Some of them work 2nd, less stressful jobs. Some don’t but have wives who work and don’t feel a need for more than two salaries.

    TRUTH
    You pick a strange pen name that really does not fit your comments. Contractors are not harassed by on-duty cops, most of whom could care less if a contractor uses a flagman. Most of the smaller jobs are only for a few hours anyway and the bigger jobs always request more officers than they can get. For you to make statements that are guesses, at best, about me, or others on here are, at least, bad manners. You might consider a more fitting pen name.

  26. THE TRUTH

    Old Timer
    Here is a saying that seems like its very fitting in regards to your posts
    Methinks thou protest to much.

  27. Tysen14

    I think the real issue here is that the officers pension is based on their last few years earnings. This includes the overtime monies they earn. We as taxpayers end up paying the high cost of their pensions for the rest of their lives. This is why Chuck Fallo stood on every corner of Norwalk his last few years at the Norwalk PD.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Tysen14

      Mayor and former police chief Harry Rilling posted this at 7:29 a.m. on Jan. 14:

      Submitted on 2015/01/14 at 7:29 am

      … Overtime is not calculated into an officers pension. Only their base salary is used to calculate retirement benefits. You can verify that by reviewing the appropriate clause in their bargaining agreement

  28. Tysen14

    I would be curious to see that in writing somewhere. Harry’s word doesnt mean much anyway. He double dips himself. HA HA He ran against his supposed friend and sent him packing. His word doesnt mean much just ask his three wives

  29. LWitherspoon

    @M Murrays

    Regarding your comment:

    “Is the implication here that officers should not be allowed to retire? Not allowed to work somewhere other than Norwalk? I think that Norwalk has actually hired experienced officers that have retired from other police departments. Should this not be allowed either?”

    Please, don’t put words in my mouth. What I asked was whether the contract continues a policy that encourages our most experienced officers to “retire” and work elsewhere, drawing a full-time salary while collecting a full pension at the same time.

    I’m also interested to know if the Norwalk PD bargaining unit has had any years in which they took a wage freeze, the way most other Norwalk bargaining units have.

    Does the Norwalk PD still offer a defined-benefit pension plan to new hires?

  30. WOW just WOW

    M Murray
    You state
    Most utilities write in the cost of an officer into their contracts. If they choose to use flag men in Norwalk, they pocket the difference.

    It seems like you are using a bit of a play on words here.
    Utilities do not submit a bid/contract to the city. They simply pass along any costs as rate increase. So the taxpayer would be paying for the higher cost of a cop vs a flagman in higher rates.

    When you are referring to a city projects bid/contract you are incorrect as the construction companies do not get to charge for one thing (police) and supplied another (flagmen). Traffic control is a line item in the bid/contract and whatever is billed is what is supplied. Otherwise as I am sure you are aware as a retired police officer that would be fraud which is a crime.

  31. WOW just WOW

    “That’s somebody who didn’t spend one weekend or one Christmas or one Thanksgiving with their family because they were out working,” Councilwoman Michelle Maggio (R-District C) said.

    What a joke.. She really should have done the right thing and recused herself from the vote considering her husband is with the fire department The FD contract will most likely mirror the PD contract when it comes up for renewal. She talks about people working in holidays, but I bet she was happy when hubby was making about 100 bucks an hour working on holidays.

  32. Tysen14

    I think the mayor also needs to let the public know that he is proposing to add 3 lieutenant positions so he can promote minorities. That will open 3 sergeant positions that will promote more minorities. Then the vacant patrol positions created by the promotions will need to be filled. Who pays for all of this? The taxpayer. All the overtime for the patrol officers will have to be filled by someone! I am all for equal opportunity. But make it just that, FAIR. Harry is just trying to appease that loud mouth David Watts and buy some more votes from uneducated people. We have a great police department which runs just fine with a very competent chief in charge. Dont try to overstaff just to buy the minority vote. Maybe he can use some of that double dip money he is making!!!

  33. Concerned Elder

    Please NoN could you publish the contract so all concerned can read it for themselves? Thanks.

    1. Mark Chapman

      @ Elder

      There are links to the 2010-2013 contract and summary of the changes at the end of this story.

  34. Oldtimer

    Truth: When you don’t have an answer you quote somebody with a talent with words. Cute, but not responsive. The idea that you might actually think is hard to imagine. If I wanted you, or others, to know what kind of work I did when I was younger, I would use my given name. You must understand that.

    Tysen 14: If you knew anything about the city website, you would know the contracts are available there. In case that is beyond your ability, here are a few pertinent facts;
    1. Police pensions are calculated as a percentage of Base pay only, depending on how long an officer works.
    2. Mayor Rilling is not double dipping. He collects a pensions he spent years earning, fixed when he became chief and effectively retired from the police dept., or at least the part covered by the contract. And he collects a salary for a job he is now working. If you were able to pass the entrance examinations and all the promotional tests and hang in for as long as he did, you could have qualified for his police pension. You would probably have been disappointed. It is not based on his salary as Chief, it is based on his salary as Lieutenant, a long time ago.

    The few cops who work all the overtime they can get, make it look like all cops are overpaid. If their regular salary strikes you as a lot, considering the requirements to join, and the work conditions, you really should apply for the job, if you think you could qualify.

  35. R Morris

    Thiese arguments seem to focus on the short-term costs at the expense of considering the long term costs. How does this practice impact pension payments later? It might be worth some analysis to see if, when taking into consideration the total cost and services required, that we’d be better off with more policemen earning a higher base but much less overtime.

    Public pensions are very generous, which makes sense. Police officers, teachers, fire fighters make less during their working lives than we might hope, but they have a much more secure pension for much longer period than private sector employees.

    CT is facing enormous pressure in coming years to cover these pension costs. We need to become better informed about this issue and figure out ways to manage it that preserve our committed public employees and yet don’t cripple our budgets.

  36. So, when these police officers are working for contractors for their mega-overtime, what if they got injured? Doesn’t the TAXpayer get stuck paying the expenses associated with that officer NOW being out on work or ‘lifetime disability??’ Every police officer I ever met has gone on ‘disability’ just before retiring and there is nothing wrong with them.
    As an RN, I work weekends and holidays; I just worked a 12 hr. shift on Easter Sunday- for straight pay,AND no I don’t get a day off for Easter holiday; we get 6 holidays a year (3 summer/3 winter), that is it.
    Not to mention the millions, if not billions of state and federal TAXpayer money that is given to all cities from the suburbs to pay for the rot that now exists in every city -the illegal (sanctuaried) immigrants, the numerous S.S.I. ‘disabled’ citizens who don’t lift a finger-ever-to clean up their neighborhoods.

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