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Amid cuts, big pay for police

Overtime, contract terms boost some Boston officers

By Maria Cramer and Matt Carroll
Globe Staff / May 6, 2010

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Even as Boston police officials laid off cadets and cut popular units like the mounted patrol, some police officers managed to dramatically boost their paychecks last year, in a few cases to more than a quarter of a million dollars.

Some of the officers earned extra cash because contracts require that officers working a detail or testifying in court be paid for a minimum of four hours. In one case, a lieutenant was paid for four hours after 15 minutes of case preparation.

All of the officers benefited from a retroactive, one-time salary boost under a new police contract. And all worked a lot of overtime.

Some examples:

Robert Ciccolo earned almost $237,000 as a police captain in the hackney unit — $37,000 of it attributed largely to staying late, doing paperwork.

His cousin, Steven Ciccolo, a lieutenant in South Boston, took in nearly $248,000, a salary made larger by almost $54,000 for patrolling parades, filling in for other officers, and testifying in court.

And James Claiborne, a popular captain who retired last year, made about $248,000, boosting his annual salary by almost $44,000, largely by going to community meetings and events in a high-crime district that covers Mattapan and North Dorchester.

These three officers were among the department’s top 10 earners in 2009. The highest-paid officer took home $272,000, and another earned $265,000; the other eight earned between $237,000 and $248,000.

The officers’ payroll records, released to the Globe under a public records request, show how it is possible for police officers to more than double their salaries, even at a time when the Police Department and other city agencies are facing enormous budget pressures and attempting to cut back on overtime spending.

“The salaries are excessive,’’ Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said in an interview. “Clearly the average person on the street does not make this kind of money. We’re completely aware that this is a difficult topic to discuss, but it’s a function of a system that’s been in place for decades.’’

The department declined to make any of the officers available for comment. Police cannot speak to the press without permission from the department.

But Superintendent-in-Chief Daniel Linskey said that, while police salaries are high, the toll the job takes on officers is significant.

“Quality of life definitely goes down,’’ Linskey said. “Cops are away from their kids a lot, away from their families a lot. It does take away other dividends . . . I can’t tell you how many officers retire at 64 or 65 years of age and don’t even get a full year of their retirement before they die of cancer, heart attack, other instances.’’

The Globe’s review of payroll records found that five of the 10 highest-paid officers had at least one week in which they received more than 90 hours worth of pay. And on more than 10 occasions, officers were paid for more than 100 hours in a single week.

It was not unusual for officers to be paid as if they had worked 24 hours or more in a day. This happened about 19 times among three officers.

Police officials pointed out that vacation days and personal days can be included in a week’s total, inflating the number of hours paid above what was actually worked.

The department allows officers to work up to 16 hours a day, or 90 hours a week, though they may work longer if they are called to an emergency or a breaking crime. Violators of the 90-hour rule can be suspended for up to five days. Steven Ciccolo, for example, was suspended for one day when he was accused of working 92 hours in a week.

In one case, it appears an officer was paid overtime when he was at home.

Matthew Spillane, a lieutenant who works in the dispatch center and made about $272,000, was scheduled for an eight-hour overtime shift on July 17, when he was supposed to direct the towing of vehicles around the city.

But at 2:45 p.m., an hour and 15 minutes before his overtime shift was supposed to end, police say he was at home, where he accidentally discharged his department-issued gun.

Spillane, who was not injured, was never disciplined. He declined to comment through a department spokeswoman.

Davis said he is looking into the incident.

“It would appear as though he went home early,’’ he said. “I’ve made it clear that it should be eight hours paid for eight hours worked, and if that didn’t happen in this particular case, we will deal with it appropriately.’’

Department officials say they expect to spend about $34 million on overtime this fiscal year, about $4 million beyond what was budgeted, but $4 million less than what was spent in fiscal 2009, when the department spent more than $38 million.

Davis has struggled to cut down on overtime since he took over in late 2006. He angered union leaders last year when he said he would begin restricting overtime to essential police work, like responding to emergencies and investigating homicides.

Despite the cuts, officers were allowed to collect overtime for mundane duties — such as finishing paperwork and preparing for court cases. Those activities accounted for a large amount of the overtime hours top-earning officers clocked in 2009.

Davis said much of the paperwork done by captains is an essential part of their job that helps make the department more efficient. For example, he said, Robert Ciccolo, the hackney unit captain, was responsible for writing new rules and regulations for taxi cab drivers.

“He really accomplished a significant amount of work for the money that we paid him,’’ Davis said.

Many of the officers received overtime for case preparation, a practice Davis tried to curtail last year but acknowledged has been difficult to do.

“We’ve been working hard at reducing that,’’ Davis said. “But again, some positions, for instance, a detective, a sergeant detective, just are required to make sure the cases are put together properly . . . On the face of it, it doesn’t seem reasonable, but it happens as a result of a system that is mandated by law.’’

The department asked supervisors in understaffed divisions to fill empty positions on overtime, bumping up such hours significantly. Timothy Kervin, for example, a lieutenant in the 911 call center, earned $265,000 by working nearly 1,600 overtime hours filling in for colleagues. Davis said he has recently promoted four supervisors to work in the call center, which he said will cut back overtime hours.

The overtime crackdown is one of several pressures on police income in recent months. The state recently stopped funding the Quinn Bill for local police, eroding the value of a benefit that significantly boosted the salaries of last year’s top earners by paying them extra for advanced education.

And since October 2008, the state has allowed civilian flaggers to direct traffic around some construction sites, a lucrative job that had been reserved for uniformed officers.

Many of the top-paid officers worked grueling hours to boost their pay.

For example, Captain Paul Russell, who earned almost $248,000 last year working in the busy Roxbury district and worked about 219 hours of overtime on investigations alone, was often called into work on weekends or at 2 in the morning when crime broke. And Sergeant Detective Michael J. Stratton, who also works in Roxbury, was called in more than 50 times at midnight or the early morning hours to handle investigations.

Stratton, the Roxbury sergeant, came in at about 8 a.m. one day in January for an annual service training session at the Police Academy. After about eight hours of updates on constitutional law and CPR, he worked an extra overtime shift. At about 11 p.m., 45 minutes before his shift was to end, there was a report of an armed robbery. Police chased the suspects to a house, where officers believed they had stashed a firearm. Stratton had to wait 12 hours before he obtained a search warrant to search the home, where police found the weapon, Linskey said. By the time Stratton went home, Linskey said, he had worked 28 1/2 hours.

“Do they make a lot of money? Absolutely,’’ Linskey said. “But our officers earn every dollar they get.’’

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com; Matt Carroll at mcarroll@globe.com.

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