Audit: San Diego Police Officers Need OT Limits, Mandatory Shift Breaks

Feb. 29, 2024
According to a new 41-page city audit, the San Diego Police Department's lack of overtime limits and mandatory breaks between shifts raise the risks of officer fatigue, which can lead to on-duty injuries.

San Diego should set limits on how many overtime hours police officers can work and begin requiring officers to take breaks of at least eight hours between shifts, a new city audit says.

The Police Department's lack of overtime limits and mandatory breaks between shifts raise the risks of officer fatigue, which can cause car crashes, injuries and reduced cognition in life-or-death situations, the audit says.

The roughly $50 million per year San Diego spends on police overtime is below average relative to comparable large cities in California, the audit says.

But the city could get more for its money by creating a centralized overtime system instead of letting each of the department's nine geographic divisions handle its own overtime assignments.

The 41-page audit says this change would allow the department to prioritize more important overtime shifts, which vary from court appearances to SWAT incidents to backfilling vacant shifts caused by staffing shortages.

" The Police Department does not prioritize overtime shifts based on need, creating the risk that more critical assignments go unfilled while officers sign up for less critical shifts," the audit says.

Typical officers only work about three and a half hours of overtime per week, but there are some outlier officers who work extreme amounts, the audit says.

The audit found that some officers work days of 16 hours or longer for multiple days in a row and that they typically don't take eight hours off between shifts. A San Diego police officer's normal work week is four 10-hour shifts.

Setting limits, either daily or weekly, on overtime hours would curb those outliers and reduce the fatigue risk they create, the audit says.

San Jose, Sacramento, San Francisco and Oakland limit how many overtime hours an officer can work in a single week, but Los Angeles and Long Beach don't.

Locally, police departments in Carlsbad, National City and Coronado have weekly overtime limits for officers.

San Diego already recommends officers take an eight-hour break between shifts, but it's not mandated.

" The Police Department encourages officers to take an eight-hour break between shifts, but it is an informal policy that is not enforced," the audit says.

The audit made some additional recommendations related to the eight-hour break proposal.

" The Police Department should clearly define what constitutes a 'shift' and should clarify the specific situations that would merit an officer not taking an eight-hour break between shifts, such as officers approved to extend their current shift, a necessary court appearance, a call-back that has been approved by policy, or an emergency," the audit says.

The audit was prompted by City Council members expressing frustration that police overtime expenses continue to rise and that the city spends more than expected on police overtime nearly every year.

San Diego has spent more than was budgeted for police overtime during 10 of the last 11 fiscal years — including fiscal 2023, when the city budgeted $40.2 million but spent $50.8 million.

Police officials said this week that they expect to spend $57.1 million during the ongoing fiscal year, $7.8 million more than the $49.3 million in the city's budget.

The audit says San Diego's spending is mostly in line with comparable cities in California.

In fiscal year 2022, San Diego spent 6.8 percent of its total police budget on overtime, which is less than the average of 8.6 percent spent by comparable police departments.

Los Angeles spent 10.8 percent of its police budget on overtime, while Oakland spent 10.2 percent, Anaheim spent 9.6 percent, San Jose spent 9.3 percent and San Francisco spent 8.2 percent.

Only Bakersfield, at 4.3 percent, was below San Diego among larger California cities.

But San Diego's spending on overtime jumped to 8.6 percent in fiscal year 2023 — $50.8 million of a $594 million police budget.

Police Chief David Nisleit agreed Tuesday to analyze and possibly implement each of the audit's recommendations, but he noted that many of the changes would require negotiations with labor unions representing the affected workers.

But the changes aren't likely to come quickly. Nisleit committed to having the department's Research, Analysis and Planning Unit complete analysis of the proposed changes by December 2025.

The audit's final recommendation was for the department to revive a plan to reduce officer overtime by hiring more civilian workers and police investigative service officers, who do lower-level work than police officers.

Last year, Nisleit said a rash of vacancies in civilian jobs was reducing parking citation revenue and swelling overtime costs by forcing higher-paid uniformed officers to perform lower-level administrative work.

Nisleit agreed Tuesday to study the issue again, but noted that he asked for 20 investigative service officers two years ago after a similar analysis and was not given money to hire them.

But the budget for the ongoing fiscal year includes $780,000 for 10 investigative service officers. Police officials said Monday that they haven't yet hired those workers.

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©2024 The San Diego Union-Tribune.

Visit sandiegouniontribune.com.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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