SAN DIEGO — San Diego police and fire employees were paid $89.6 million in overtime payments in 2021.
In all, the city paid $113.3 million in overtime last year with 546 city employees in all city departments collecting more in overtime than in their annual salary.
According to numbers obtained by CBS 8, one San Diego Fire Engineer was paid $236,937 in overtime while only collecting $42,642 in base pay. In addition, two police officers received more than $212,000 in overtime while a Fire Captain made $203,314 in overtime pay.
In all, police and fire departments received more in overtime payments than any other departments citywide. The data reveals that 114 police and fire employees received more than $100,000 dollars in overtime pay last year.
The city’s annual overtime payments have skyrocketed in recent years.
In 2015, the city of San Diego paid just over $71.2 million dollars in overtime. Those payments jumped to $78.2 million in 2016, followed by $82.1 million in 2017. In 2018 the city paid out $91.6 million in overtime before jumping to $97.1 million in 2019. In 2020, the city paid more than $110.7 million.
Since 2015, the San Diego Fire Department has collected the most compared to any other department.
Last year, the city paid $52.93 million in overtime to the fire department. San Diego Police Department received the second highest out of any other department with $36.6 million.
Last year's overtime paid to police and fire was more than $1 million dollars higher than in 2020 and $13 million higher than in 2019.
The city attributes the spike in overtime payments to the pandemic and the need to cover unfilled positions throughout departments citywide.
In regards to police and fire, a city spokesperson tells CBS8 that the overtime was needed to ensure public safety was maintained in San Diego and elsewhere.
"In 2020, a historic fire season required SDFD to send out crews on strike teams, which meant 12 to 15 personnel out of town fighting fires each day," said Director of Communications Nicole Darling. "That overtime is paid by the city but is reimbursed by state or federal agencies we are supporting.
Added Darling, "In January and February 2022, SDFD saw an increase in overtime of approximately $3 million due to COVID impacts on staffing. Additionally, SDFD has approximately 70 vacant firefighter positions."
Darling says the city has since placed a cap on annual leave accruals for city employees and continues to address staffing shortages throughout the city, including police and fire.
"For the Police and Fire-Rescue departments, the city is actively recruiting and looking at ways to both speed the hiring process and ensure our employees' compensation is competitive in a very tight labor market," says Darling.
But union heads for the police and fire department say the city is falling short on those efforts.
Jared Wilson is the President of the San Diego Police Officers Association. Wilson says the overtime payments are a result of the city’s failure to invest in public safety.
“Public safety employees are absolutely overworked in San Diego and the city is relying on overtime to staff critical needs,” Wilson told CBS 8. “This is burning out police officers and firefighters who are leaving the city for other agencies. SDPD has lost over 200 officers since July 1, 2021.”
Wilson says the exodus has burdened those officers who have stayed with the force and has resulted in public safety issues.
"It has led to obscenely high response times for critical calls, and neighborhoods going unstaffed. Our community deserves well rested and experienced police officers and firefighters who make split second life and death decisions.”
Jesse Conner, president of the San Diego Firefighters Union, agrees. Conner says the city has failed for several years to invest in public safety personnel and until it does the city will be on the hook for huge overtime payouts.
"It all comes back to the whole pay and benefits argument," said Conner. "If the city continues to ignore the fact that San Diego Firefighters are not paid what others around the state and even the county are paid then we will always find ourselves in a personnel debt.
"We need to right size the department staffing or else we will continue to burn the wheels off the bus by relying too heavily on our already overworked personnel. It's ultimately a business decision for city leaders but someone has to show up when our citizens call 911.”
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