Police overtime costs for the Democratic National Convention could rival what they were when Pope Francis traveled to Philadelphia — but this time, the city isn’t on the hook for the costs. At least not most of them.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Kenney said the city estimates that police overtime costs for the week of July 25 when the DNC is in town could hover around $8 million. But, she cautioned, “that’s obviously subject to change based on what the day to day needs end up being.”
Police overtime costs were $8.3 million when Pope Francis visited Philadelphia for three days in September. Those costs were a large reason Philadelphia was (sort of unexpectedly) responsible for some of the costs related to the World Meeting of Families.
Though former Mayor Michael Nutter had assured the public that taxpayers wouldn’t foot the bill for the event, that later changed after city police worked more than 150,000 hours of total overtime during Papal events. The city ended up paying for $8 million worth of costs related to the Papal visit; the World Meeting of Families covered the rest.
First-year Mayor Jim Kenney has also assured taxpayers that they won’t be responsible for covering security costs related to the Democratic National Convention. But the city has already received a $43 million federal grant from the Department of Justice to cover costs related to security like payroll and overtime as well as the purchasing of equipment.
The state is also expected to kick in $10 million to help pay for security, and the city took out a $15 million line of credit to ensure there’d be enough funding to cover costs related to the DNC in the event the Host Committee doesn’t raise all the cash it needs.
Though the papal visit (like the DNC) was classified as a National Special Security Event, that only allowed for mass coordination of federal, state and local agencies, but didn’t automatically bring in additional funding.
So why all the overtime?
Police and public safety officials consistently accrue more overtime than any other part of city government. When special events take place, the police force often must go above and beyond their already-scheduled time for investigations, patrol and court appearances in order to provide security, and that only increases during unplanned events like large protests or big emergencies.
Thousands of protesters and demonstrators have already received permits and signaled they’ll gather crowds throughout Philadelphia to hold rallies or marches related to DNC events. And security will need to be tight with figures like the president, the vice president, every top Democrat and tons of celebrities expected to be in town.
Philadelphia Police — and many large police departments, for that matter — have long struggled with ballooning overtime costs.
During a budget hearing for the police department in April, City Councilman Allan Domb asked Commissioner Richard Ross why the department had spent $60 million on overtime for officers alone in fiscal year 2016 and why those costs had steadily risen over the last several years.
Ross said one of the largest reasons for police overtime is “court time,” or when police officers are called to testify. For officers who work night shifts, appearing in court during the day counts as overtime.
“One of the issues with the larger figure last year was we factored in the Papal visit,” Dep. Commissioner Christine Coulter said during the hearing. “A lot of that money was reimbursed. Officers were on 12-hour shifts working much later and much longer.”
And when asked about overtime costs for the DNC, Coulter said: “We’re certainly concerned about it, but there is a mechanism where we are reimbursed for that. That money has, I believe, already been transferred to the city fund in order to pay for anything related to the convention, not only overtime, but special equipment our department will need as well as other city departments.”
Meanwhile, the city as a whole well overspent on overtime costs in the fiscal year that ended June 30. The Inquirer reported in May that the city had already spent $25 million more than it had budgeted to cover overtime costs. City officials blamed the increase on “September’s papal visit, the January blizzard, and new hires in the Fire Department.”