Curbing sheriff’s office OT at issue

By WARREN CORNWALL

Herald Writer

The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office could save as much as $370,000 in overtime by monitoring its use, working more closely with other county agencies and possibly hiring more officers, according to county auditors.

The findings suggest that the department could control at least some of its spiraling overtime costs, which are expected to total more than $2.2 million this year.

Sheriff Rick Bart said he concurred with many of the report’s findings. Among those are that the department lacks support personnel who could help administrators monitor overtime, and that department leaders need to set clearer guidelines about when overtime should be used.

County Executive Bob Drewel’s office, however, questioned whether the report exaggerated overtime savings.

In a letter to the auditors, Drewel noted that overtime on some occasions may prove less costly than hiring another person.

"This study does not appear to consider the possible advantages of using overtime," the letter said.

Bart said he is taking steps to rein in overtime and will likely make further moves in coming months. The goal, he said, is to hit the $370,000 that auditors presented as the largest savings the department could get.

"A lot of it we can’t control, but a lot of it we can," he said.

The largest changes include disbanding the county’s riot control squad, restricting the use of its honor guard and having patrol deputies work 12-hour shifts.

The shift changes, which are subject to a new contract yet to be approved by the deputies’ union, would make it easier to move officers to areas that need attention and make scheduling more flexible, Bart said.

The other principle saving is from the use of two specialty teams.

The roughly 40-member riot control squad will be shut down to save money on overtime work and training, Bart said. The unit was created in preparation for Y2K problems that failed to materialize, and then was used to help quell the violence at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle.

The honor guard, which attends parades, funerals and swearing-in ceremonies for deputies, also will be used more sparingly, he said.

But Bart vowed not to cut back on other training or on units such as SWAT teams.

The report’s recommendations include:

  • Create a more formal scheduling process to help managers oversee scheduling.

  • Add more deputies if recent hires don’t cut the use of overtime to fill basic staffing needs.

  • Improve scheduling with the courts and county jail.

  • Consider adding more support staff to track overtime.

    Part of the problem can be traced to an expansion in the department’s officer corps to keep pace with the county’s growing population and an increased demand for law enforcement, said Martin Standel, chief author of the report.

    Since 1996, the department has added 50 officers, and calls for service have risen about 43 percent, according to the report.

    The report highlights the strains on the department’s office staff, something already noted in a state audit released this week. That report found that poor bookkeeping led the department to overlook more than $170,000 in federal grant reimbursements it could have gotten.

    The county has responded by planning to hire a financial analyst and asking the federal government for a second chance to collect the grant money.

    Bart said he will also try to monitor overtime by appointing a staff person as the department’s human resources manager, rather than spreading the duties to different workers. But he said the budget proposed by Drewel doesn’t include additional office staff.

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