According to a budget presentation at the township council meeting Thursday night, Mahwah Police officers were busy in 2012.
Last year, cops arrested a higher number of people and gave out more tickets than they did in 2011, Chief Jim Batelli told the council during the hearing.
Overall, arrests in Mahwah were up over 21% over 2011, with some categories like juvenile arrests and drug-related arrests spiking in 2012, Batelli said.
The number of tickets written jumped, too – from just over 5,000 in 2011 to 7,605 in 2012. While Batelli said the arrest increase is “significant,” the number of tickets issued by Mahwah police typically fluctuates between 5,000 and 9,000 per year, he said.
Thursday night, the town council entered a lengthy discussion in an attempt to knock down the police overtime costs associated with the police activity. According to the council, police overtime jumped from $327,000 in 2011 to $514,000 in 2012.
The biggest chunk of the OT costs is from court overtime, officials said, as Mahwah officers are paid to attend Tuesday night court proceedings for crimes ranging from motor vehicle tickets to criminal offenses. In 2012, court overtime cost the township over $347,000.
Batelli offered several possible explanations for the rising cost, including a change in Bergen County Prosecutor policy saying that police officers must be present at court proceedings.
According to Batelli, the policy was changed in 2010 in an attempt to save money. However, for 2012, the prosecutor reinstated the rule, saying that cases without officers present were not judiciously fair to the defendant, he said.
The township “does not have the authority” to change the prosecutor’s rule, he said.
Batelli also cited some reasons ticketing may have gone up, including an e-ticketing system that allows officers to write and process summonses more quickly. Though officials cited a bump in revenue to the township from the increased number of tickets in 2012 – summonses made the township about $500K last year – ticket-writing also bumps up the amount of police overtime needed.
Without considering court costs, Batelli said the OT of the department is actually low for its size. And, he said the PD has procedures in place to help reign in overtime spending.
For example, he said, a contract agreement negotiated between the PBA and mayor at the end of 2011 knocked down the court overtime hours officers receive. Previously, cops who spent longer than two hours in court automatically got paid four hours of overtime, “even if they were there for two hours and five minutes,” Batelli said. Now, they get paid for the amount of time they are there, without an automatic “two-four” bump, he said.
Batelli also said overtime requests must be approved by three levels of management, and police work schedules are often rearranged in order to avoid overtime costs.
“During Hurricane Sandy, we only spent $9,000 in overtime,” Batelli said. “Considering it was a 13-day event with probably the highest call volume we’ve received for a single event over the past five years, that [is relatively low],” and due mostly to rearranging schedules, he said.
The chief also brought up seized monies from arrests that netted the PD $3M in 2012. Cops can use that money to purchase certain items without affecting the budget. Police are planning to use that money to buy new weapons for the department, in-car video cameras and 10 new PCs, he said.
The council twice attempted to reduce the budgeted amount of overtime pay for 2013 from $500,000 to something less, but both votes failed. Council members cited irregular patterns in arrest, ticket and overtime statistics over the past three years when voting against the budget cut.
The council did take several thousand dollars out of the PD’s 2013 operating budget, which, without salaries, was requested at $407,477, for other expenses.
At the hearing, Batelli and council members agreed that increased communication this year could help track and streamline spending. The chief agreed to quarterly appearances in front of the township council to discuss finances.
The ongoing township budget hearings will continue Saturday morning at 9 a.m. with a council review of the Mahwah Fire Department.