San Diego

City Firefighters, Police Paid $72 Million in Overtime in 2018

Overtime for dozens of public safety employees exceeded their base pay; one Fire Department Captain made $218,000 in overtime for a position budgeted for $88,000.

This article was updated on May 30, 2019 to include comments from the president of the San Diego Fire Department firefighters’ union, who responded to request for comment after deadline.

Last year, the city of San Diego spent more than $70 million dollars in overtime pay for fire and police department employees. Documents obtained by NBC 7 Investigates reveal that some public safety employees made more than twice their salary in overtime pay alone. 

One San Diego Fire Captain earned $218,000 dollars in overtime pay in 2018. A San Diego Police Officer earned $127,000 in added pay, while a dispatcher with a salary of $47,000 made and an additional $59,000 in overtime. 

An analysis of city pay records confirmed that dozens of police and hundreds of fire department employees made more than $100,000 each in overtime. 

"[Overtime] is helpful in the short term, a crisis or an emergency,” said Haney Hong with the San Diego County Taxpayer’s Association, responding to NBC 7’s findings. “But it’s not helpful [to taxpayers] long-term." 

NBC 7 Investigates filed a public record request to obtain the pay records, which are reported to the city of San Diego's Government Compensation Report of 2018.  

Among the records, NBC 7 found 61 firefighters who each earned more than $100,000 in overtime pay last year. In comparison, nine city police officers received more than $100,000 in overtime. 

In 2018, NBC 7 found 60-percent of all San Diego Fire Department employees were paid more in salary and overtime than the maximum salary budgeted for their positions. That compares to 41-percent of San Diego Police Department employees were earned more in salary and overtime than the maximum budgeted for their slots. 

The fire department’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget includes funding for 52 additional employees. A department spokesperson said those new hires will help reduce overtime costs. Those planned additions include 37 firefighters who will make up a new “relief pool” that can cover for firefighters on leave. The department says that strategy will help reduce overtime pay for daily shifts. 

Jesse Conner, president of the city firefighters’ union, said many firefighters do not want to work so much overtime, but “were forced to work hundreds of hours beyond the required minimum under the threat of discipline.”

Conner also told NBC 7 that hiring more firefighters “does not result in a direct, dollar-for-dollar savings, as is often believed.” Conner said the cost to taxpayers for extra hours is similar, whether that work is done by an existing employee working overtime or an additional employee working for straight pay.

A San Diego Police Department spokesman said the department is “fiscally conscious and reduces overtime whenever possible”. The department hired 185 new officers last year, but still has 200 vacancies. 

"We should not only expect the overtime numbers to go down, but we should also watch for, and demand they go down," Hong said.

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