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Princely overtime payments for some Houston police DWI task force members cry out for closer scrutiny
The Houston Chronicle
HOUSTON, Texas — Arresting drunken drivers and securing their conviction is a laudable police goal, but it appears some Houston police officers have received extraordinarily large overtime payments for off-duty court appearances. The practice raises questions about HPD's management of scarce law enforcement resources and department policies that may have encouraged wasteful expenditures.
As reported by the Chronicle's Matt Stiles and Steve McVicker, Senior Houston police officer William Lindsey, a member of the HPD DWI task force, received more than $100,000 in overtime last year, giving him a total income of $172,000, higher than the city salary of Mayor Bill White and only slightly less than HPD Chief Harold Hurtt. Lindsey's overtime for 2005 is nearly half that of the $300,000-plus total paid to eight other DWI task force members. The veteran officer also racked up substantial totals for the previous two years. He was suspended for 15 days in 1990 for filing inaccurate overtime claims.
The figures raise concerns that some officers might be working so many hours that exhaustion may lower their ability to do their job safely. DWI task force members work evenings and early mornings when drunken driving most frequently occurs. They receive overtime for daytime court appearances after their regular shifts. HPD officials did not explain why Lindsey's overtime totals were so much higher than his colleagues.
According to the Chronicle investigation, several Houston police procedures have contributed to the large overtime billings. Unlike the Texas Department of Public Safety, which trains all troopers in DWI-related arrest procedures, such as administration of breathalyzers and sobriety tests, HPD only trains DWI task force members in these techniques. While DPS generally uses only one officer for a drunken driving arrest, HPD tends to involve more personnel in arrests and subsequent testimony in court, resulting in higher overtime totals.
While officers defend the practices as necessary to put drunken drivers in jail, the number of DWI arrests by HPD officers has declined by nearly half in past decades from a peak of 12,600 in 1985. Defense attorneys who represent drunken drivers contend that the task force officers are gaming the system to rake in big bucks for sitting in court. "These guys are like small-town speed traps," DWI lawyer Sam Adamo told the Chronicle. While other officers work off-duty security jobs, "these guys don't have to, because they're making so much money coming down to the courthouse."
Chief Hurtt says the high overtime totals are unavoidable because of understaffing in the police department. Perhaps that's so, but when the HPD indians are making almost as much as the chief for sitting in court, a financial sobriety test of DWI task force policies and procedures is in order.
Top dollar Texas cops