Minneapolis city and law enforcement officials are probing whether to limit the number of hours police officers can work, which they say will prevent burnout and cut dramatic increases in overtime spending.
Whether that means hiring more cops or cutting back on how much off-duty jobs are allowed, they say they’re open to ideas.
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said at a city budget hearing last week that research shows officers who are overworked and don’t get enough sleep are less productive, more injury-prone, and “in many cases the incidents of complaints goes significantly higher.”
The amount of overtime pay collected by officers nearly doubled from 2014 to 2018, from $2.9 million to $5.5 million, while the number of overtime hours worked has risen a more modest 26%, department data show.
The reasons for this are twofold, says Robin McPherson, the police department’s finance director. For one, a new union contract approved in 2017 included pay raises for all officers, she said.
According to the budget documents, the department spent $1.3 million more in overtime last year than it did in 2017, with $600,000 going toward the Super Bowl and $700,000 to backfill positions for vacations taken after the game.
“So it’s not only costing the cost of the comp time, but now you have overtime — so it’s costing almost double,” McPherson said at the budget meeting. About a third of overtime costs are because of staffing shortages, she said.
Council Member Linea Palmisano, who is among those pushing for changes, has requested an audit of the department’s off-duty employment guidelines to see how that factors into officer fatigue. Businesses around the city hire officers to help with security or to direct traffic at rush hour. A recent unofficial count tallied 76 officers moonlighting as security guards at nightclubs and other establishments, a one-day snapshot that Palmisano said is probably a conservative estimate.
Officials say that secondary employment remains popular mostly among older officers, who see it as a way to supplement family incomes on jobs that tend to be less stressful than regular patrol work. But Palmisano said fatigue is a concern.
“How are we serving people of the city, … are we getting our employees at their best and are we also encouraging this other work that is more lucrative?” Palmisano, who heads the budget committee, said in an interview. “Our officers are working lots of hours at something, not getting enough rest and then sort of just showing up — we indemnify them for all of it.”
The chief, who has made officer wellness a priority, is fond of saying that when he first joined the force in the 1980s, officers were expected to “suck it up” while handling the very real physical rigors of the job.
But it can come at a cost, researchers say: Long hours on little sleep can lead to burnout.
Department officials point to studies showing that officers who worked excessive overtime reported feeling both physically exhausted and emotionally drained. Cognition also suffers, according to Dennis Kenney, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
Kenney says that to combat fatigue — which he compared to driving while under the influence of alcohol — some police departments started rotating schedules and changing their rules on court duty so that officers weren’t “working all night long, and then sitting all day on a bench outside of the courtroom.” Other agencies moved to 12-hour schedules, he said, which counterintuitively allowed officers to better manage part-time jobs by giving them more days off to spend time with family and tend to other business.
“Fatigue produces a physiological response — it’s less attention, less focus, eye-to-hand coordination begins to diminish, anger happens more rapidly,” said Kenney, who has studied the issue. “As I tell students: ‘I can work tired, I’m just not nice when I do it.’ ”
Researchers in one study, published last November in the scientific journal Sleep, concluded that “on-duty fatigue and sleepiness, sleep obtained prior to a shift, and working night shifts were strongly associated with public complaints.” Another recent report found that officers, after nights when they got less sleep, were more likely to reinforce unconscious racial biases.
Work guidelines, which haven’t changed in years, allow officers to negotiate their own off-duty assignments after first gaining approval. Officers, who are allowed to use police squads when available, are still technically bound by department regulations while working their second jobs, including being required to wear their body cameras. The number of hours that officers can work, both on- and off-duty, is capped at 64 a week.
Staffing in play
This isn’t the first time the city has looked hard at changing off-duty work rules.
In 1994, then-Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton — referring to the off-duty system as a “shadow police force” — unveiled a controversial program that put officers’ off-duty work under the department’s direct control and provided additional liability protection for the city if those cops get into trouble.
St. Paul police have long restricted off-duty work to 24 hours per week. The department has no plans at the moment to change the policy, according to spokesman Steve Linders.
Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, the police union, said he isn’t necessarily opposed to changing how the off-duty program is run so long as it doesn’t jeopardize public safety.
“If they want to look at things like this, certainly we want to be a part of this discussion,” said Kroll, while adding: “I’m a guy that can function on four hours of sleep and be very productive.”
But, he cautioned, banning the practice could be counterproductive, particularly in entertainment districts like Uptown and the Warehouse District, where off-duty cops working at bars, clubs and liquor stores are often the ones handling calls at those businesses.
“If they clamp down on part-time, they’re going to have to hire a helluva lot more [officers] than they’re used to hiring,” he said.
Minneapolis’ roughly 860 sworn police officers make it the largest law enforcement agency in the state, but a Star Tribune analysis found that its ratio of officers to residents dropped about 15% from 2008 to 2017. Arradondo has repeatedly asked for more officers to account for population growth.
The request for added manpower comes amid generally declining crime, even though calls for service have increased by a third since 2010. At the same time, response times vary widely in parts of the city.
Adding more officers might also help alleviate soaring overtime costs, officials say. So far in 2019, the department is expected to accrue “some increase” in overtime costs, due in large part to the Final Four, “which we expect to be less than the impact from the Super Bowl,” department spokeswoman Sgt. Darcy Horn said.
“It is difficult to project, as most of our OT occurs in the summer and early fall,” she said.
Palmisano said the off-duty work issue has been on her mind for several years, but her “interest was resparked” by the murder case against former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor. Prosecutors contended in pretrial filings that Noor, who was convicted this month of killing Justine Ruszczyk Damond, had gone from his off-duty job of working seven hours of security at a Wells Fargo branch to his shift, which went from 4:15 p.m. to 2:15 a.m. the following morning.
“I don’t know how big the problem is yet, and I do see it as a problem from a wellness perspective,” Palmisano said.