By Mary McCleary
Everyone knows police officers have to go to court. They write traffic tickets, apprehend accused criminals, and arrest drunk drivers. It is no secret that appearing in court is part of a police officer’s job. The real secret, however, is how police officers are compensated for the time they spend in court. Thanks to the collective bargaining agreement between the Fraternal Order of Police Union (FOP) and the City of Columbus, central Ohio police officers can “earn” up to eight hours of pay for court appearances that sometimes last only 15 minutes.
While there are a few exceptions and special circumstances, there are four basic levels of compensation officers can receive for court time. First, police officers earn their normal hourly pay if they appear in court during their regular shifts. Second, if police officers clock out of court less than 30 minutes before the start of their regular shifts, they earn 1.5 times their hourly pay rates for the amount of time they spent in court. For example, if an officer spends an hour in court and finishes his cases 15 minutes before his shift starts, he will be paid time and half for one hour only. Third, police officers automatically are compensated for four hours at 1.5 times their hourly pay rates for court appearances that end more than 30 minutes before they start their shifts. For example, if a police officer spends an hour in court but finishes 45 minutes before his next shift begins, he will be compensated for four hours at time and a half even though he only worked for one hour. Lastly, if police officers are subpoenaed to court on their second consecutive day off, they automatically are paid for four hours at double their hourly pay rates. For example, an officer appearing in court on his second day off of the week would earn four hours of double time even if he only appeared in court for a brief amount of time.
In other words, police officers can substantially increase their incomes by going to court when they are technically off duty. Consider the example of a new hire police officer working second shift with Tuesday and Wednesday off who makes $21.78 per hour as specified by the collective bargaining agreement. If he goes to court three mornings a week with Wednesday being one of those days, he can add $871.20 to his paycheck every two weeks raising his biweekly pay from $1742.40 to $2613.20. If the police officer continues this pattern of going to court throughout the year, he can make an additional $22,651.20 in court pay alone. Thus, under these circumstances, a first year police officer’s annual pay is $67,953.60.
Assuming the same police officer sticks with the force for five years and works the same shift, his hourly pay in the fifth year of service will be $34 per hour. If he is still going to court on Wednesday along with appearing in court two other mornings, he adds $1,360 to his bi-weekly paycheck and $35,360 to his annual earnings. Thus, the police officer in this example makes $106,080 annually after only having worked for five years. As an officer moves up the pay grid every year, the amount of money he can earn through court appearances continues to increase.
The most outrageous aspect of court overtime pay is that an officer gets paid for four hours at time and a half or double time even if the case is only a minor violation, which takes minutes to resolve. If the police officer referred to above goes to court for a traffic offense on his second consecutive day off, it is likely that he will spend only 15 minutes in court and earn 8 hours of pay (four hours at double time). Thus, on such a day, he will earn $272 for 15 minutes worth of work, or to put it in more understandable terms, $1,088 per hour. These numbers are based on a police officer who has only worked for five years. Just imagine how the court compensation costs increase as officers move-up the pay grid.
In an effort to determine how much money the city of Columbus spends on overtime court pay per year, the Buckeye Institute submitted a public records request to the Columbus Division of Police. Unfortunately, the request was denied because there currently is no way to determine how much money each officer earns in court over-time pay. This lack of transparency makes it nearly impossible for taxpayers to hold the city of Columbus and the police department accountable for dollars spent on court appearances.
The excess in police overtime court pay is just another example of how public sector unions drive up the cost of government, as they cut special deals with management representatives at the bargaining table who have no incentive to keep such costs down. Let’s pay police officers for their time, but at a reasonable rate. These types of deals have no parallels for the vast majority of Ohioans in the private sector.
Police officers risk their lives to keep us safe, but the time they spend in court appearances does not merit the compensation they receive.
This article was written by Mary McCleary while she was a policy analyst at the Buckeye Institute and originally appeared in the Hillsboro Times Gazette.