Worcester Reacts to Sky-High Police Payouts
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Police personnel accounted for 45 of the 50 city employees with the highest gross pay last year. Chief of Police Gary Gemme topped the list with gross pay of $198,699 in calendar year 2012, followed by Deputy Chief of Police Mark Roche, who grossed $193,304 last year. In all, 10 police officers, 12 lieutenants, six captains, 12 sergeants, and four deputy chiefs and Chief Gemme were among the 50 highest grossing public employees in 2012.
In some cases, the difference between the officers' regular pay and their gross pay was up to $94,000. According to City of Worcester Communications Specialist Colleen Bamford, the difference between regular pay and gross pay for the City's police personnel is the combination of overtime and paid detail. For detail assignments, said Bamford, the City recoups the paid detail amount from the companies that hire the details.
More information needed
It remained unclear how much of the various officers' additional pay was for overtime and how much was for paid detail.
"I think there definietly needs to be a breakdown," said District 4 City Councilor Sarai Rivera, with regard to hours, overtime, paid details and any union restrictions or obligations.
Without that information, said Rivera, it is difficult to determine what the significance of the numbers truly is.
"I'm concerned that this is going to create some kind of negative feeling with the Worcester Police," she said.
Dollars in the details
"What really boosts the salary is the details," said Roberta Schaefer, president and CEO of the Worcester Regional Research Bureau.
"Given the detail assignments, it's not at all surprising that these people are going to be in the top rung of the salary scale."
Schaefer pointed out that utilities and roads crews are the biggest customers when it comes to police details. While other states often use flagmen for directing or controlling traffic around work sites on local roads, Massachusetts has held onto the practice of using police officers for the job.
"That's really the biggest chunk," Schaefer said.
In the case of projects undertaken by the Department of Public Works & Parks that require a police detail, Schaefer said, the City is effectively transferring money from one department to the pay other, so the money for the details is still public funds, just not out of the Police Department's budget.
When utility companies hire police details, on the other hand, the City may not be paying them with public dollars, but residents will still bear the cost incurred by the utility companies in the long run in the form of the rates they pay. Either way, said Schaefer, it comes down to the taxpayer.
Public safety a priority
As of Tuesday, the City Manager's budget projections were showing a $5.8 million shortfall that will have to be closed in the 45 to 60 days.
"We may have to look at things like salary freezes," said Lukes, noting that the salary information could then provide the background on current salary levels, which could then be taken into consideration when determining where the pay freezes would have the most manageable impact.
Lukes expressed particular concern about the impact of any potential salary freezes on the City's lower-income employees, who may find themselves closer to financial hardship if their income changes or fails to change as anticipated.
She also noted that City's Fire personnel often have other jobs as well, whereas such an arrangement is much less prevalent in many other departments, and also needs to be taken into consideration in any budgetary discussions involving wages.
In regard to the Police Department holding the vast majority of the top 50 paid positions in 2012, Lukes cited the City's commitment to education and public safety as its top priorities.
O'Brien's current budget preview includes a police recruit class of 25 members for the coming year.
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