Nine months after a city auditor recommended tighter controls on police overtime, the Minneapolis Police Department announced Thursday that it spent $2.5 million less on overtime last year than it had budgeted.

It's the largest savings since 2007, and comes despite several high-profile events that required police overtime, including a presidential visit, the Occupy Minnesota protests and the North Side tornado.

The department's spending habits came under fire two years ago when Chief Tim Dolan reported to the City Council that the department had gone $4.3 million over budget. Back then, the department atoned for the overruns by shedding civilian staff and delaying the hiring of a class of police academy graduates. The City Council's scrutiny of the police budget eased somewhat after it finished 2010 just $190,000 in the red.

Deputy Chief Scott Gerlicher said Thursday that the overtime savings came about after a department-wide effort to rein in costs, particularly because the earlier overruns had resulted in layoffs.

"It really hits home when you have police officers not able to work," he said. "Everyone does whatever they can to cut costs and do their part."

The department budgeted $5.3 million for overtime in 2011, but spent $2.8 million -- the lowest amount paid out for police overtime in a decade. The 2011 Police Department budget of $136.3 million amounted to 10 percent of the city's total expenses.

The department's 2011 budget numbers are still coming in, but it appears as though spending will be $2 million to $2.1 million under budget, Gerlicher predicted.

The city's audit, issued last April by a revamped city audit arm, did not find evidence that overtime had been misused, but it did recommend better controls to help supervisors control it.

Gerlicher said that discretionary overtime has been cut back, but that it was impossible to reduce other overtime costs, such as court hearings that officers are required to attend or incidents that occur late in a shift.

New reporting controls do allow for more real-time observation of overtime costs, said Gerlicher.

"Sometimes it's just a matter of tweaking the way we do business," he said. "We're able to do a more rapid job of identifying issues and addressing them more quickly."

The department also planned ahead for special events, like President Obama's visit last year, and used officers from other areas of the city if possible rather than calling in extra officers on overtime, he said.

Investigations that required officers working overtime still went forward, said Gerlicher. "Those are still a high priority for us," he said.

Matt McKinney • 612-217-1747