DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — The Durham Police Department is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in overtime pay for police as officer vacancies are on the rise.
According to new data CBS 17 obtained from Durham police, from July 14, 2021, to Sept.12, 2021, 91 police officers worked a total of 3,570 hours in overtime and the department spent $201,349.26 during that two-month time period.
That is the equivalent of the salaries for five starting police officers for the entire year, as Durham police officers start out making $38,511 a year.
Durham police are having more officers work overtime shifts because of a shortage of officers.
Police told CBS 17 in late August that 69 of their positions were vacant which is 13 percent of their police force. But the Durham County Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) said the department’s vacancy total in operational positions is closer to 100.
The Durham County FOP shared data with CBS 17 that showed last weekend they were only 51 percent staffed on Friday night and Saturday night, but additional officers came into work overtime which brought their staffing up to 66 percent on Friday night and 59 percent on Saturday night.
“It’s those officers who are coming in on their days off, that are really keeping the city’s nose up above water,” said Larry Smith, spokesperson for the Durham County Fraternal Order of Police.
CBS 17 reached out to city council members to get their reaction to the city spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in police officer overtime during the two-month time frame.
“We know the overtime issue has been building partly because there are a lot of vacancies,” said Durham city council member Javiera Caballero.
Caballero said city staffers are working on a proposal to increase police officer pay in hopes of recruiting and retaining more officers, so there won’t be as many officers having to work overtime.
But right now, there’s no word on when that proposal will be heard before the council.
CBS 17 has reported about how Durham is lagging behind other cities in the Triangle in police officer pay.
Durham currently pays starting police officers $38,511, which lags behind Raleigh ($42,300), Hillsborough ($43,227), Holly Springs ($47,932), Wake Forest ($50,234), and Cary ($51,000).
Durham city councilman Mark-Anthony Middleton said it is not just the hefty spending on police officer overtime that concerns him.
“There’s another issue in addition to pay, having overworked armed people showing up to your house is a safety issue,” Middleton said.
Durham police are continuing to advertise for police officer positions, and they’ve held recent recruitment events and job fairs. CBS 17 reached out to police for an update on the police officer vacancies and how many officers have been hired at these events, but we have not heard back.
CBS 17 reached out to city manager Wanda Page for a comment on how much is being spent on officer overtime.
Page said in a statement, that the city is currently comparing compensation in nearby police departments, and they are committed to making sure Durham police officers are paid fairly.
“Overtime and supplemental pay are regular tools in our toolbox for ensuring adequate staffing of police shifts,” Page said in a statement. “It is appropriate for the police department to use these tools, which are planned for in our annual budgets and can be modified throughout the year based on need. As we work to address vacancies in the police department, I anticipate continued use of overtime to address staffing needs.”
CBS 17 also reached out to Durham Mayor Steve Schewel, who said a proposal to increase police officer pay will be coming before council very soon, and that council has already indicated its strong support.
“On the other hand, there are times when we need to pay police overtime, and we certainly need to keep that funding in the budget as well,” Schewel said through a text.
CBS 17 also reached out to the Durham County Sheriff’s Office to find out how many overtime hours deputies and detention officers had to work during that same time frame and how much the county has spent on overtime, but we have not heard back.
As CBS 17 previously reported, the Durham County Sheriff’s Office has 55 vacant detention officer positions.
Right now some deputies are required to fill in multiple shifts in the jail per month until the sheriff’s office fills these vacancies.