Dallas Police Will Spend More Than $30 Million on Overtime This Year

Dallas Police unions are warning the City Council that many more officers will leave the department in the next few months, unless changes are made in the proposed budget for next fiscal year.

Officers say low pay is one of the biggest reasons why they go elsewhere. Police and firefighters cover nearly two-thirds of the city's budget, but starting pay is about $12 to $15,000 less than other North Texas departments.

Nearly 220 Dallas police officers already have left the department this year. That includes retirements, relocations and officers leaving for a career change. But based on an analysis of data provided to NBC 5 after an open records request, 40 percent of the officers who have resigned in recent months have done so to become a police officer somewhere else in North Texas.

And unless even more police officers are offered raises next fiscal year, the Black Police Association of Greater Dallas and other police associations say dozens more officers could soon leave.

Dallas is a much safer city than it was five years ago by any metric measuring violent crime or non-violent, property crime. And there are several hundred fewer officers patrolling the streets now than there were a few years ago.

But it comes at a price. The Dallas Police Department has spent twice its projected overtime budget this year. Overtime alone this year is costing taxpayers $32 million.

Police commanders say the overtime has gone toward special crime-fighting initiatives that have kept crime down. The City Council says the missed projections can't happen again next year.

"The question becomes can we afford our police force? At $460 million [for the department budget], you had 100-percent miss of the value of overtime," said Dallas City Councilman Philip Kingston at Monday's Public Safety Committee meeting. "We have an existential question, don't we? If we can't get better safety results than this, I don't know. Can we continue to exist as a city?"

There are more than 3,400 sworn officers. The city manager wants to hire 200 new officers next year and give raises to two-thirds of officers, who have not "topped out" at the step-raise for their current rank.

That still leaves about 1,000 officers who would be ineligible for the pay raise – the city's most experienced and veteran officers, who've maxed out at their ranks.

"If we want to stop the officers from leaving, we've got to pay them," said Sheldon Smith, with the Black Police Association. "I'll tell you right now, officers are waiting on the decision to leave or not based on the decisions in this budget. They're waiting."

The city manager's proposed budget calls for hiring 200 new police officers, but Smith says the priority should be using revenue to make sure all current officers get a boost in pay.

"Those are the officers that have fought for us for the last 12 years to get us the reduced crime we have now, and they're the ones who won't see a dime more," he said. "And they're not playing, they're leaving. They're leaving in mass numbers."

"Other departments less than 30 miles away have exclusive classes of Dallas police officers that transferred to their department. They have lateral transfer classes there," he added.

The Dallas Police Department has received more than 500 applications in the last four weeks since the deadly ambush shooting that killed five officers. The department is still sorting through paperwork and background checks among the applicants, and the next testing dates at Dallas Police Headquarters for potential new recruits is in 10 days.

"We need those officers, there's no doubt about it. But those recruits, it's going to take them a minute to go through the academy. Within a year-and-a-half they'll be out on the streets," Smith said. "But our officers need help now."

Councilman Kingston said he's troubled by the department's overtime expenditures so far this year, and how they missed the mark on their projections.

"The issue becomes, is that going to happen every year? And at what level does our public safety spending become unaffordable? We're already at 64 percent of the budget going for public safety right now," he said. "And we've got to be better than missing the [overtime] projection by $15 to $17 million."

Kingston believes the budget plan for next year will improve morale and stop attrition.

"I'm not that concerned about [more officers leaving]. I think the extra attention DPD has received nationwide in response to the incredible way it handled the shooting tragedy, I think that's increased interest," he said. "And if we can increase the young and rookie officer pay, then we'll be more competitive with any big city around."

"We have a competitive advantage," he added, "I think people who want to protect other people want to do it in the biggest, most challenging departments. We may lose officers from time to time to suburbs, but they're probably not doing work that's as interesting as we can offer here in Dallas."

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