Oakland’s auditor instructed police to fix their overtime practices. Here’s how the department is doing

OAKLAND — More than two years after issuing a report revealing that Oakland spends about $30 million a year on police overtime, the city’s auditor released a followup report Friday that concluded the police department has made some progress in controlling excessive costs.

City Auditor Courtney Ruby’s 2019 analysis of the department’s overtime expenses spanned the previous four years, when she discovered officers were being forced to work long hours to cover for vacant positions.

Her previous report also criticized the department for lacking adequate internal rules on overtime use and concluded it needs to do a significantly better job of managing costs and being transparent about it.

Oakland had exceeded its overtime budget by an average of $13.7 million each year, Ruby’s team found.

Excessive police overtime has been a concern among Oakland residents and leaders for at least two decades. That concern extended into budget discussions in 2020 and 2021, when a finance report showed the police department exceeded its 2019-20 budget by $32 million.

Ruby’s followup report identified 11 recommendations that the police department had at least partially implemented and 10 it has not.

Ruby determined that the current two-year police department budget, which sets aside $60 million for overtime, aligns with her recommendation that it more “realistically” estimate how much extra money likely will be paid.

She also had recommended that the department fill positions so it could become fully staffed. Although the department has struggled to recruit candidates, the City Council recently helped remedy the rapid loss of sworn officers by approving additional police academies with the aim of adding 60 cops by summer of 2023.

That was a controversial move, however, as critics of police funding questioned whether the city should spend more money to beef up the department.

The department also identified methods for controlling overtime costs, although technology limitations prevented it from automating overtime scheduling and management, as recommended.

And Ruby’s recommendation that the “unsafe” amount of voluntary overtime be limited was rejected by city administrators who countered that it could lead to mandatory overtime to fill shifts or leave events short-staffed.

Many of the recommendations that weren’t implemented involved issues covered in contracts with the police unions that aren’t up for renegotiation until 2024. Ruby recommended that the city end practices such as allowing officers to defer their overtime payments, for example.

Ruby’s office will provide further updates on how the police department implements her recommendations. But in the wake of a year that saw intense debates about public safety funding, the city is expected to weigh other analyses of how the department should be spending its money.


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