An unusual reliance on overtime by Twin Cities transit police drew questions Friday from the Legislative Commission on Metropolitan Government.

"Is there any scheduling ... to be addressed so there's less overtime, or is it just a matter that you don't have enough staff?" asked Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover.

It's a trade-off, replied Wes Kooistra, deputy administrator of the Metropolitan Council, the regional agency that runs transit.

"What's the cost of adding staff versus paying overtime; those are questions we ask," he said. "Like any other organization, we don't do it perfectly. So I'm sure we'll find places ... where overtime is being provided where it might be more efficient to do something differently."

"Sometimes overtime is more efficient than adding staff," he said.

Scott is chair of the commission on metropolitan government. She pointed to a recent Star Tribune report that the transit police have relied more heavily on overtime for total pay than do police or sheriff's deputies at other law enforcement agencies in the Twin Cities. Nine percent of transit police pay in 2011 came from overtime.

A consultant who examined Metro Transit police recently cautioned against "inefficient use of resources" and said the department sometimes "lacks the staff to respond appropriately to calls."

Transit police chief John Harrington last week defended the use of overtime, saying most of it occurred during special events like Vikings and Twins games that involve heavy use of transit.

Harrington was not present at Friday's hearing of the commission, and Kooistra said he couldn't comment specifically about the transit police use of overtime.

But Scott expressed doubt at the hearing about event overtime.

"You know those things are coming. Can you schedule accordingly?" she asked Kooistra.

Five transit police officers earned more than $30,000 in overtime in one year and another made $50,264.

"This one guy made as much in overtime as he did with his salary," Scott said in an interview. "I'd like to know why."

Pat Doyle • 612-673-4504