How the City Drastically Reduced Overtime

Overtime.jpgLast week, a Vanguard analysis found that the city had achieved a good deal of savings through the reduction of overtime.

As we noted last week, when we ran our initial study of the 100K Club of Davis, we noted that there were 61 members of that 100K Club of Davis.  Of those, 48 were public safety employees and 38 were firefighters.

Of union members, in 2007 there were four police officers in the 100K club and 34 rank and file firefighters.  Fire Captains, as we have noted, are union members who receive overtime for extra service.

Those numbers have fallen drastically, not due to a pay cut, but rather due to a profound drop in overtime usage.

In 2007-08, the City spent $1.55 million on overtime pay.  By 2010-11, that number has fallen to $686 thousand.

The vast majority of overtime is used by both fire and police.  In 2007, $867 thousand went to fire fighter and another half a million to police officers.

By 2011, firefighters received $346,000 in overtime pay police received $275,000.

This of course prompted questions about how this occurred.  It also led one reader to conclude, “If the city was able to cut overtime to the huge extent it has, then it couldn’t have been all that difficult… and is certainly an indication that the overtime wasn’t needed as much as is claimed. Sure it would be nice to have Cadillac services, but at some point economic reality has to reign supreme.”

Since police and fire are the chief consumers of overtime, we thought it would be best to discuss with the current Chiefs to understand how they cut the overtime.  Based on that discussion, the chiefs certainly would not agree with that reader.  They argue, in fact, that changes in overtime were not only difficult to achieve, but also potentially pose public safety risks.

Fire Chief Bill Weisgerber told the Vanguard that he believes that the 2007 numbers might have been distorted by out of area fires that are marked as overtime but are reimbursed to the city.

Nevertheless, there has been a concerted effort to reduce overtime locally.  Mr. Weisgerber told the Vanguard, “Numerous measures have been taken to reduce the impact of overtime, which began to be scaled back a couple of years ago in response to the challenges of local revenues.”

“Speaking to my tenure with the fire department, we’ve looked at every process for internal controls and cost containment, ranging from contract services and purchasing to the expenditure of overtime,” he added.

Chief Weisberber said, “The Davis Fire Department is fully committed to effective public safety and to insuring that our resources are dedicated to providing the most efficient, cost-effective delivery of emergency response services possible. The mission of the fire department is to deliver professional emergency response services within 5 minutes of receiving a 9-1-1 call, 90 % of the time.” 

He added, “And, the practice of austerity has been instilled throughout the Davis Fire Department organization, educating personnel from the top down as to the true cost of conducting our business–and, there is a noticeable cultural change to this effect.”

Some of the examples of policy changes, tightening review and suspending certain activities, include:

  • Outside training, career development opportunities and officer meetings. (With exceptions: training essential to mission critical continuity in which a small cadre of personnel are allowed to attain “train-the-trainer” status.)
  • Special projects requiring work outside scheduled duty time are approved on a case-by case/as-need basis for mission critical continuity, only.
  • Staffing Community Events (e.g., Fire Department Open House, Celebrate Davis, special or Public Education events unable to be staffed on-duty).

However, these changes, he believes, come with a cost.  “These suspended activities will have a long-range impact to service delivery without creating mechanisms to provide: training for new and emerging technologies and techniques; career development and succession planning; and, completion of special projects that enhance service and/or create a more efficient delivery of current services,” the Chief said.

However he added, “The effects of austerity have short-term gains, with long-term ramifications that must be creatively addressed to maintain the level of service the community expects. So, our work is not complete by quite a long measure.”

The merger and consolidation presents a potential benefit of significant potential for maximizing efficiency through through resource sharing and eliminating duplication of effort.  That may in the longer term be the antidote to most of his concerns.

He concluded, “The more effective the response of the Fire Department (not allowing small fires to turn into large blazes; providing timely emergency medical response to prevent more serious patient outcome consequences), the more cost savings are realized overall, and of course, the more beneficial to the safety of our Davis community.”

Davis Police Chief Landy Black similarly told the Vanguard, “The OT reductions we have been able to achieve came about through conscientious and concerted efforts here at the PD. City Hall has directed all departments to reduce OT and the PD has done a fairly good job at accomplishing it.”

Like his counterpart, he argued that not only was this not a simple process, but it will result in “a somewhat poorer quality of service, or service potential, to our citizens.”  He added, “Furthermore, there is ultimately a limit to just how far OT can be reduced and have the police department do its job without making major errors.”

Chief Black laid out the process in very fine detail.  He pointed out while this may be more detailed than one expected, “to merely say, “Yes. It was a conscious effort,” really doesn’t tell the true story or give anyone the true sense of how complex seemingly simple cost reduction ideas can actually be.”

This is obviously an important point to counter the perception that somehow this was an easy process.

“From a practical standpoint, and in the interest of high level professionalism, the reduction/elimination of OT in certain areas of PD operations is impossible,” Chief Black told the Vanguard. “For instance, the largest single OT line-item is Court OT—currently over $75,000 a year. Our officers receive subpoenas that they are not at liberty to ignore and they must be paid for their time in court or waiting to testify.”

Thus he writes, “The only way to reduce that OT, is to stop making arrests and writing tickets.”

He added, “Another potentially large portion of OT is paid for responses and investigations associated with serious crimes and critical incidents. Studies have shown that the chances of solving and having successful prosecutions for some serious crimes is significantly increased with an all-hand-on-deck approach for the first 24 hours or so after the incident.”

“Processing the scene, running down leads before they can cool, identifying and contacting witnesses involves significant time from quite a number of personnel. While we don’t do this for every big case, there are times, especially with death investigations, stranger rapes, and some robberies, that we make the full court press to give ourselves the best opportunity for a successful outcome. Prudence says we must.”

“Critical incidents involving barricaded persons (with & without hostages), and bomb calls also have the potential for creating high OT usage and failing to have those SWAT, Negotiator (CNT), and EOD responses is not really an option,” he noted.

“A number of phenomena and actions on the part PD staff have contributed to the reduction in OT that we have achieved,” he said. “Some of these actions have very little down-side for the public and may actually result in improved service delivery in some cases. But some, as I will try to explain, have a potential down-side to the traditionally high-quality Davis Police service delivery reputation.”

Full Employment and Training

  • For the past 2-3 years, the PD has experienced stable and nearly full staffing. This was not very often the case in prior years. When I arrived in 2007 (the 06/07 OT budget was around $600,000 that year, by the way) there were vacancies in both our sworn and civilian (dispatcher) ranks, and for long stretches of time there were Student Officers (SOs) and Student Dispatchers being trained by Field Training Officers—FTOs, and Communications Training Officers—CTOs. Those FTOs and CTOs received additional compensation, paid out of the OT budget.
  • Having open positions and experiencing a constant rotation of new employees is another artifact of better economic times. Greater job availability results in employees able to seek different employment conditions and locations. Since the economic downturn, our employees have not been looking elsewhere because the jobs are fewer. And should they make a jump to one of those fewer jobs, they lose seniority and risk being in a position to suffer a layoff, something they might not have to risk here.
  • I’d like to illustrate from the sworn officer perspective the result and OT impact of having a rotating, less stabilized staff. For much of the time before 2009 we might have had 2-5 SOs being trained at any one time, on top of vacancies that sometimes still existed at the same time. Just the SOs in training effectively represented as much as an 8% reduction in total sworn staff, a 9% reduction in OT-eligible (Officer/Corporal/Sergeant) staff, and, most importantly, about a 13% reduction in OT-eligible Patrol staff. So, even though on paper, PD might look to be fully, or nearly fully, staffed, until the SOs are fully trained and on their own, other impacts on meeting minimum staffing needs (sick, maternity/paternity, vacation, training, etc.) caused us to hit the critical level faster/earlier than currently. (During one period we had four Officers off at the same time for maternity/paternity, and the City policy on those leaves means employees absent for two months at a time.) OT was liberally used to meet Patrol and Dispatch minimums. Now that we have been fully staffed with officers out of the training phase for longer periods of time, it is easier to maintain minimum staffing without dipping into OT as frequently to accomplish it.
  • When they economy finally turns around, and jobs become more plentiful, will vacancies and training requirements force us to exceed current OT budget limits?

Staff Realignment

  • We have one fewer Traffic Officer, two fewer Special Investigations Detectives (we’ve pulled out of dedicated Hi-Tech and Gang investigations) than we did five years ago. We have shifted those resources to Patrol. This also enabled us to create full-time Bike Officer and School Resource Officer positions within the Patrol/Operations Division. To some degree, those changes have resulted in a bit less exposure to OT conditions.
  • On the other hand, and to our and the community’s potential detriment, our traffic safety operations, and our ability to independently investigate and stay informed and proficient with regard to Hi-Tech and Gang crimes/issues, have been negatively impacted.

Management/Supervisory Oversight

  • The employees have borne a burden in our efforts to reduce OT, beyond the impact on their paychecks. More often than in the past, employees have had their schedules flexed to avoid the necessity of bringing someone in on OT to cover staffing shortages. Sometimes this means an officer loses having his/her days off all be in a row. Other times they may be directed to work a shift other than the one they are normally assigned. We try not to overdo it in this realm, but it does happen and the officers whose routines are tossed around are paying the price.
  • Also, a continual pressure to control OT (beyond the usual good stewardship efforts that should always exist) has been in effect for most of the time since I became Police Chief over four years ago. This may be a good thing from a purely fiscal perspective, but from an operational and public service perspective, it may be less desirable. The PD’s ability to provide the same level of service we could be providing, and in prior times were providing, has been reduced. In an effort to control OT, greater restraint has potential negative ramifications:
  • Is potential evidence overlooked in our hurry to complete a case before the end of shift to avoid OT?
  • Is potential evidence lost/degraded when we hold cases for later dispatch to avoid an earlier shift’s OT?
  • Are witnesses less easy to locate when we hold cases for later dispatch to avoid an earlier shift’s OT?
  • Is potential evidence lost/degraded or perpetrators not caught when we are more restrictive in after-hours K9 deployments?
  • Is a less desirable preliminary investigation—the starting platform for the follow-up investigation—the result of being more restrictive in after-hours detective deployments to more critical incidents?
  • Do fewer stake-outs and other after-hours proactive/tactical operations result in fewer crimes being detected/deterred or criminals arrested?
  • Training is conducted less frequently in an effort to reduce the need for OT to fill the vacancies in the operational staffing while the normally working officer is in the training. When does that chicken come home to roost? When does a less well trained officer make a mistake that damages a case or has fiscal costs and/or other negative ramifications to the PD and the City?
  • There are many little things that just don’t get done any more and this list is far from exhaustive.

New Patrol Shifts

  • Converting from four squads working twelve hour shifts (84 hour pay periods) to three squads working 10-hour shifts and two working 12-hour shifts with one 8-hour shift per pay period (80 hour pay periods) has resulted in greater coverage during peak times, while at the same time tending to reduce the exposure to OT potential. This has also been helpful in having extra staffing on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights during the spring and fall when we used to compelled to bring on OT paid bar/party patrols due to the high call volume.
  • This was accomplished through management planning, and most importantly, through the cooperation of the Davis Police Officers’ Association during their last round of contract negotiations. Patrol Officers essentially experienced a 5% pay reduction, though they do work fewer scheduled hours now.
  • This occurred last fall, in the very early part of FY 2010/2011. The initial impacts have been captured. The full value will begin to be reaped starting this upcoming fiscal year.
  • The new shift pattern eliminated 4 hours of straight-time OT paid to patrol employees every pay period—a nearly $80,000 annual OT reduction.
  • The new shift pattern created a better training day overlap that resulted in less OT paid to cover Patrol shortages to accomplish required training.


While these are complex and lengthy answers to seemingly simple questions, I think presenting the full story here helps for those who are inclined to think this was easily achieved.

For me, the big unanswered questioned is more philosophical.  Why are we offering overtime at all to salaried employees who are performing tasks within the confines of their normal duties? 

These are professionals making between $70,000 and $111,000 in base salary.  I think it is one thing to pay for overtime for firefighters traveling out of county or police officers getting training, but for the standard duty, that seems misplaced.

Nevertheless, this appears to be one area where the city took seriously strong criticisms and saved a lot of money.

The next task will be for them to continue to save money while figuring out ways not to reduce service.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. E Roberts Musser

    I’m not following the logic here. On the one hand the article seems to be saying overtime reduction was difficult to achieve and excessively degraded services, implying overtime is essential to providing optimal level of services; then turns around and calls for the elimination of all “standard duty” overtime, whatever “standard duty” overtime means. How do you distinguish what is “standard duty”? Isn’t training very much a part of “standard duty”? It is for the legal profession, and on our own dime by the way. I don’t think the idea of distinguishing what is “standard duty” is even workable.

    More importantly, according to the CA Dept of Industrial Relations: “In California, the general overtime provisions are that a nonexempt employee 18 years of age or older, or any minor employee 16 or 17 years of age who is not required by law to attend school and is not otherwise prohibited by law from engaging in the subject work, shall not be employed more than eight hours in any workday or more than 40 hours in any workweek unless he or she receives one and one-half times his or her regular rate of pay for all hours worked over eight hours in any workday and over 40 hours in the workweek.”

    So if an employee works more than a 40 hour week, which is often necessary for fire and police, they must be paid overtime by law. The only exception to this rule that I think would apply is as follows: “Employees covered by a valid collective bargaining agreement if the agreement expressly provides for the wages, hours of work, and working conditions, and if the agreement provides premium wage rates for all overtime hours worked and a regular hourly rate of pay for those employees of not less than 30% more than the state minimum wage.”

    So if I am understanding the law correctly, only if the police and fire agreed to its elimination, could overtime be done away with. I very much doubt police and fire would agree to any such thing, and I cannot blame them. Please correct me if I am missing something here…

    “If the city was able to cut overtime to the huge extent it has, then it couldn’t have been all that difficult… and is certainly an indication that the overtime wasn’t needed as much as is claimed. Sure it would be nice to have Cadillac services, but at some point economic reality has to reign supreme.”

    When I made this statement, I was referring to the ability of the city to somehow find places to cut overtime if it was necessary. And they did find those places, did they not? Clearly we are not going to get the same high level of service – but perhaps we have to accept less than perfection and be more economically realistic. My very real concern is that when the economy rebounds, overtime will rise dramatically to its former level or even more, which is a recipe for disaster if and when the economy goes south again. I think it is high time the city of Davis gets used to the idea it does not have to have Cadillac services, and can get by with a lot less than it does.

    I, for one, greatly appreciate the efforts of both police and fire to do their level best to create leaner, meaner fighting machines. I also realize it is not optimal, but the bottom line is 1) there is only a finite amount of money – the taxpayers’ pockets are not bottomless, and 2) we need to stop ballooning services in good times, so that we cannot afford them in tough times. I would like to keep the police and fire as leaner, meaner fighting machines (perhaps not quite as lean as now, but definitely below previous levels – unless we can be assured there is sufficient rainy day funds to cover all contingencies). Fiscal responsibility is paramount, in light of our state’s less than optimal funding responsibility/response towards local gov’t/universities.

  2. Rifkin

    [b]”Why are we offering overtime at all to salaried employees who are performing tasks within the confines of their normal duties?”[/b]

    Most of the answer to your question is state and federal labor law ([url][/url]):

    [i]”A salaried employee must be paid overtime unless they meet the test for exempt status as defined by federal and state laws, or unless they are specifically exempted from overtime ([url][/url]) by the provisions of one of the Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders regulating wages, hours and working conditions.”

    I don’t think firefighters or cops meet any exempt status. There is an exemption for those who have a collective bargaining agreement. However, even that requires a “premium wage” for overtime hours.

    Further, federal law requires overtime to be paid to all firefighters who work more than 204 hours in a 27 day period. Our fire contract schedules all of our firemen to be on duty for 216 hours every 27 days. To solve that, we need to take firefighters off the clock for 8 hours each shift when they are allowed to sleep.

  3. Avatar

    “””””””Those numbers have fallen drastically, not due to a pay cut, but rather due to a profound drop in overtime usage.”””””””

    The Enterprise several years ago ran a article saying the firefighters , took a 6 % pay cut for 3 years , ending on 7/01/2012 .

    Did the police also take a pay cut , as big as the firefighters ?

  4. Rifkin

    [i]”The Enterprise several years ago ran a article saying the firefighters , took a 6 % pay cut for 3 years , ending on 7/01/2012.”[/i]

    This is false. You did not read that in The Enterprise. Your facts are hearsay, [edit]

  5. Avatar

    “”””””Those numbers have fallen drastically, not due to a pay cut, but rather due to a profound drop in overtime usage.””””””

    In the Enterprise article the savings for this pay cut was over $ 800,000.00 .

    I don’t remember an article about the police , maybe Rich Rifkin did that article . Then again A.K.A. ” Brian ” 2 articles a month is pretty lame !

  6. David M. Greenwald

    But those are phony numbers Avatar. The real savings was about $200,000. The figure you are citing is the difference between the new MOU and continuing the old MOU which had like 6% pay hikes in it. You can’t do that. Comparing the baseline year instead produces a much more modest pay cut.

  7. medwoman


    I think this may have been in reference to an article in The Davis Voice, Firefighter Contract Strikes a Balance, from January 6, 2010.
    While I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the content of the article, I was able to demonstrate it’s existence in under two minutes.
    Also there was a statement that this article was originally published in the Enterprise although I have not gone back through the archives to verify.

    May be a little fact checking could precede derogatory comments ?

  8. David M. Greenwald

    Medwoman: Rich is referring to the fact that the $800,000 figure uses questionable accounting techniques. The contract does not save $800,000 in real money. It saves $800,000 (and change) from a baseline of the current MOU with would have granted a 6% pay increase.

    Here’s my article from last December: link ([url][/url])

    Scroll down to here: [quote]he City estimates the contract will result in a total of $886,586 of savings when compared to original baseline budget projections for the next three years, a 4.23% overall reduction. For the current year alone, the savings represent a 4.19% reduction from the original MOU costs built into the 9-10 budget.

    But those numbers do not make any sense. They are using figures from the baseline rather than last year’s actual costs. That is misleading at best. [/quote]

  9. medwoman


    I was not commenting on the facts or numbers, but rather on Rifkin’s ‘assertion that this article had not appeared in the Enterprise when it would appear it had,v and on his subsequent dismissive tone.

  10. Rifkin

    MEDWOMAN WHO WRITES IT’S: [i]”I was able to demonstrate it’s existence in under two minutes.”[/i]

    The article that Bobby says was in The Enterprise never was. Never. And you found no such article. You must not have read Bobby’s post clearly.

    Bobby said there was an article which said [b]’the firefighters took a 6% pay cut for 3 years ending on 7/01/2012.'[/b]

    The fact is the firefighters took a pay cut of 6% from their previous base*, and that cut in pay lasted 6 months, not three years. After 6 months, the firefighters got a 2.13% raise. And then a year after that they got another raise.

    *Note that the previous base grew by 36% in the 2005-09 contract.

  11. Rifkin

    One more note about the current fire contract. I think it is a good model for what we as a city need to be doing. It is based on total compensation. No other city labor deals are. As a total comp deal, know that the total comp for the firefighters has INCREASED over the period, despite a small wage reduction. The reason for that is the firefighters are getting more medical benefits and more pension benefits, as the expenses for those benefits are growing at a rate we cannot afford.

  12. Rifkin

    [i]”I think this may have been in reference to an article in The Davis Voice, Firefighter Contract Strikes a Balance, from January 6, 2010.”[/i]

    For the record, the Davis Voice is not The Davis Enterprise.

  13. medwoman


    I am well aware that the Voice is not the Enterprise. Accompanying the article in the Voice was the comment that the same article had previously been published in the Enterprise. As I stated, I “did not verify by going through Enterprise archives, and my comment was not about the facts of the case but rather about my preference for civility in commentary..

  14. Rifkin

    [i]”Accompanying the article in the Voice was the comment that the same article had previously been published in the Enterprise.”[/i]

    I have no idea why you are being so stubborn on this. The reason this article never existed is because _______ Avatar ________ got his facts wrong. The fire union did not take a 3 year cut of 6% in salary. They took a 6 month cut in pay and then after that got 2 increases in salary. They also got increases in benefits worth another substantial percentage. Do you understand?

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