Memphis PD to get
its first financial manager

(MEMPHIS) -- The Memphis Police Department is putting in place a department-wide system of fiscal accountability in an effort to rein in spending.

But cutting costs, particularly overtime pay, while still providing the level of service desired, is a balancing act, said Deputy Director James Bolden. " If we can cut back overtime and deliver the services. . .we have an absolute obligation to do so.''

A team of police department and City Hall executives is producing a set of standards. Training sessions are scheduled.

And for the first time, the department will have a finance manager - Chuck Fox - who spent 15 years with the city as a deputy director in several departments.

Eventually, specialized units, and precinct and bureau commanders will have their own budgets and be responsible for staying within them.

The effort was spurred by a recent city audit of how overtime was being abused, and allegedly stolen, at the precinct level.

The investigation of alleged payroll padding was turned over last month to state prosecutors for possible criminal charges.

Police payroll officers and civilian employees may have improperly taken between $20,000 and $30,000 in overtime, either in cash or compensatory time, over a 12 month period, said Police Director Walter Crews. No criminal charges have been filed and the audit has not been released to the public.

That audit, however, prompted a department-wide review of how money is spent, particularly on overtime.

Last year, the department had a budget of about $ 132 million and ended the fiscal year with a $6 million deficit.

In all, MPD spent $9.8 million on overtime.

For fiscal 2001, which began July 1, the department has a budget of $148 million and intends to stay within the budget, officials said.

MPD is, in part, reducing overtime costs by increasing its complement of officers. But additional officers cost money, too.

Previously, officers were held over into the next shift to ensure there were enough police on patrol.

The department has been recruiting and hiring aggressively in an attempt to meet Mayor Willie Herenton's goal of increasing the number of officers by 200 a year.

As of Friday, there were 1,953 commissioned officers on the force, up from about 1,500 three years ago.

A new recruit class graduated from the training academy Thursday night. A second is scheduled to begin classes this month; and another early next year.

Overtime costs became a major issue in 1988 when then-director Walter Winfrey was forced to seek additional funding from the City Council late in the fiscal year. Because of the severe shortage of officers, other officers were regularly working double shifts, in some cases doubling their salaries by working overtime.

That year, the department had spent $10.5 million for overtime between July 1 and March 31, the first nine months of the budget. But the City Council approved an additional $6 million to bail out the police department.

"We are trying to put it (the accountability plan) together so we can monitor the budget, give us early warning, so we can stay within the budget,'' said Mark S. Brown, the city's deputy finance director, sent to the department in August to review the budget.

"Any large municipal police force is going to have overtime. . .but it gets to a point where overtime in lieu of adding additional people is not cost effective," he said.

The department also expects to hire more civilian employees to handle jobs being done now by enforcement officers, Bolden said.

(iSyndicate; The Commercial Appeal; Nov. 5, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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