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City Smacks Down ‘Forensic’ Study of Police Overtime

City says UCLA report lacks context and says it comes up short

Published on Wednesday, April 14, 2021 | 8:39 am
 

The city slapped back at a “forensic analysis” by UCLA researchers released Tuesday that makes claims about overtime pay at the Pasadena Police Department and also highlights racial and economic disparities in arrest data.

According to a graphic provided by the UCLA School of Law’s Criminal Justice Program performed a study of publicly available Pasadena Police Department (PPD) spending records for 2015 to 2019 and found that the department could have saved the police budget as much as $4.6 million in overtime spending in 2019.

“In the five-year time period, PPD increased overtime payments to its officers by 43%. As the report indicates, the $4.6 million saved could have enabled Pasadena to increase housing services or funding to the Human Services and Recreation budget, both of which receive less funding than PPD,” said co-authors Alicia Virani, director of UCLA’s Criminal Justice Program, and Leah Gasser-Ordaz, Youth Justice Fellow with the Program.

The report does not detail the impact of overtime pay for policing Pasadena’s busy public events calendar, which saw large crowd events virtually every weekend during the study period. Those events sometimes require not just local police, but sometimes county and federal law enforcement officials.

The UCLA researchers also pointed out that Pasadena teachers don’t get overtime. The school district is funded by the state.

In a response late Tuesday, the city took the presentation to task for its lack of context.

“The UCLA study makes use of statistics to support a particular position but it falls short due to a superficial analysis that does not take into account the relation between Pasadena Police overtime and security for the Rose Parade, the Rose

Bowl game and the many events at the Rose Bowl stadium and throughout the City which similarly sized cities do not have,” according to the city’s statement.

“It compares apples with oranges in this respect and many others as well. While its title references economic disparity in arrest data, no actual data is provided to support the provocative headline,” the statement continues. “The study did not seek dialogue, comment or clarification from the Pasadena Police Department which any independent academic study should do to validate its findings. Unfortunately, the study fails to further the dialog on the proper role of and funding for law enforcement or on complex issues of race and economics in favor of advocating a particular position on the issues.”

The city also pointed out several other key points missing from the document:

  • Pasadena compares total compensation for police officers against that of 10 other police agencies in Southern California. Based on that analysis, Pasadena’s total compensation falls at about the midpoint.

  • During the years analyzed, Pasadena had lots of events: UCLA football, New Year events, a music festival, and dozens of other events. In fact, for policing larger events such as New Year’s. the city has to supplement its police force with law enforcement from the county and other cities.

  • In most cities, the Police Department’s budget is the largest portion of the General Fund. The comparison to libraries is out of context. (Pasadena actually spends more on its library system in actual dollars and per capita than other similarly sized cities.)

  • The comparison to Social and Mental Health Services is unfair. With the exception of some specific grants for that purpose, the city does not provide Social and Mental Health Services. Those are provided by Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health.

  • The notion that the city could save $4.6 million per fiscal year by reducing overtime is faulty. 1) It fails to recognize the underlying factors driving the need for overtime such as special events and maintaining service levels when department vacancies are high. 2) Given pension and other overhead costs, it is actually less expensive to use overtime than hire more officers.

  • The comparison to teachers is misleading. Teachers with the Pasadena Unified School District are represented by a labor union and are free to negotiate wages, salaries and terms of employment with the school district. Under federal law, police officers are not exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act which is why they receive overtime pay.

In an interview with Pasadena Now, Gasser-Ordaz said the group based its results on information gathered via the public records act.

“From there [we] analyzed the data and we’re able to do the math and figure out things like how much it might’ve been possible for the Police Department to save based on 2019,” said Gasser-Ordaz. Neither Gasser-Ordaz nor the research indicated  what overtime assignments were unnecessary and how the savings would have been possible.

Gasser-Ordaz also said the researchers had spoken to local activists and organizers, including police critic Kris Okershauser and local resident David Chavez.

“They were researchers trying to connect with people on the ground here around police oversight,” Chavez said. “I think they were just trying to get some transparency.”

The study also presents arrest information which it says “reveals clear racial and economic disparities,” but does not analyze the causes.

“While Black people comprised 9 percent of Pasadena’s population in 2019, just one of the years studied, they accounted for 28 percent of those arrested. Unhoused people made up over one-third of all arrests.

“I think that the data speaks for itself,” said Gasser-Ordaz. “The public and the community organizations can use that data to draw their own conclusions.”

Gasser-Ordaz said she felt it was important to provide both arrest and budget data in the report because that “helps the public visualize how the police are spending their budgeted dollars.”

“The more a community knows about the efficacy of public safety programs, the more empowered they are to demand change if they feel it is warranted,” she said.

The city’s take was critical of the report.

“We welcome analysis and are happy to share data, but sadly this superficial attempt has come up short,” the city statement reads.

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