AURORA | Aurora police have paid more than a quarter-million dollars of overtime wages to officers and desk workers who have volunteered to work shifts left open because of ongoing staffing shortages so far this year, records obtained by The Sentinel show.
Through the beginning of this month, the local police department has paid $298,857 to police personnel who work overtime shifts due to “short staff,” according to information released via an open records request. That includes non-sworn staffers like records technicians, a department spokesperson confirmed.
A total of 6,634 hours of short staff overtime have been accrued so far this year.
The payments stem from an ongoing exodus of officers from the ranks of Aurora police, which is down dozens of workers from its budgeted allocation of 744 sworn staff. Only about 630 officers are currently fully trained and able to work, Deputy Chief Darin Parker said last month. About 70 personnel are still in training and cannot work by themselves, and other 40 or so are on some form of inhibited duty due to illness, injury, involvement with a contentious incident or military leave.
More than 100 officers have left the department so far in 2021, surpassing the previous high-water mark of 87 departures last year. The department shedded about 60 officers in both 2018 and 2019, data show.
“That is simply not sustainable,” Council Member Dave Gruber said earlier this year of the department’s trajectory for total departures in 2021.
The newfound lack of personnel has forced Police Chief Vanessa Wilson to cut resources previously allocated to the department’s SWAT, traffic, narcotics units and backfill patrol duties with overtime assignments.
“We are facing a manpower issue,” Wilson told city council members earlier this year. “I want to applaud the officers that are working day in and day out those that are taking on these overtime assignments. They are tired and they’re weary.”
The shortages have left the department with an unexpected influx of cash, but much of the money is being set aside to cover the overtime costs, according to city budget analysts. But the lingering exhaustion among staffers has made filling any open positions a challenge in recent months, officials have said.
“We’ve lost 100 cops, so there’s a significant amount of money that’s been freed up simply by salary, but we’re spending that in overtime in order to cover the positions that have been left open,” said Sgt. Marc Sears, head of the department’s primary labor union. “And the problem there is the officers collecting the overtime are burning out.”
Competition for more favorable overtime assignments has also bubbled to the forefront.
“The younger officers that we bring on that are eager, a lot of them are taking these jobs, which is great,” former Division Chief Steve Redfearn told council members earlier this summer. “But, every time we add an overtime assignment there is competing — who is gonna work what — because there are some officers that say they will never work an additional job. It’s a constant struggle to get some of these overtime shifts filled and that includes patrol itself.”
Overtime dollars paid to Aurora police raised eyebrows last year after the city paid nearly $200,000 to officers who patrolled a pair of controversial demonstrations held at city hall and in front of a police substation. Dozens of sheriff’s deputies from neighboring agencies who patrolled the chaotic candlelight vigil organized in honor of Elijah McClain in late June 2020 also received overtime wages.
And in 2019, the department authorized another $187,000 in one-time overtime payments for nearly 100 officers who patrolled competing demonstrations in front of an immigrant detention center on Oakland Street. Police did not report any arrests during the event.
By contrast, the city paid a total of $754,418 in overtime between 2017 and the middle of 2019 for so-called major incidents, like homicides, missing person cases and police shootings. The largest chunk of that total came from patrolling prisoners while they recuperate from injuries sustained prior to or during an arrest, according to Aurora police data.
Until late 2019, the event that produced the highest total of police overtime wages in Aurora was Global Fest in 2017, when officers earned $19,571 in overtime, according to city data.