In 2010, Jonathan Cortes, a 15-year veteran police officer, earned more money than the police chief. How? Cortes clocked approximately 1,148 extra hours in special detail and overtime, while Chief Michael McKenna reported zero. That means, on average, Cortes worked 22 extra hours per week.
In response to a Patch report about 50 City of Newport employees earning six-figure incomes in 2010, Cortes wants the public to know that many of the police officers on that list — there were 24 of them — work extremely hard to earn that money, and they are doing so to benefit their families as well as the city. When speaking about the hundreds of extra hours he works to support his family, Cortes had just come in from the rain after working a special detail project.
According to Lt. William Fitzgerald, an officer can work no more than 16 hours in a 24-hour period, but could work 16 hours per day, every day, if he chooses to and the overtime or special detail is available. The 16-hour rule is to ensure the safety of the public and the officer, Fitzgerald said. Cortes said he’s more than familiar with those 16-hour days and is “very grateful” for the amount of overtime and special details he is able to work.
Those overtime and special detail payments do not affect an officer's pension accrual or payout from the city. Their pensions are determined by salary and longevity, which deters officers from racking up overtime shortly before retirement.
Sometimes during special events, if officers don’t pick up the special detail or overtime, the police department has to bring in officers from other towns, which costs the city even more.
“I have a family of three children and a lot of us [have kids] and I’m a single father. Obviously I’m grateful for the opportunity. I know other people don’t have the opportunity in other jobs,” Cortes said.
The city doesn't pay all the bills. Cortes points out that not all personal income is paid for by the city using Newport taxpayer funds. Private contractors pay the city for special details like traffic duty, and the city in turn pays the officers who worked the detail.
Special grants also contribute heavily to the overtime costs. The Newport Police Department has approximately $350,000 in state and federal grants that it is using to pay for overtime. Certain grants are applied to extra hours for community police patrols, to combat underage drinking, or to respond to noise and nuisance complaints, which Cortes said he frequently does during his overtime hours. Once that grant money is gone, and if no new money arrives, so too goes the overtime. For the officers, it becomes a game of “get it while you can.”
"The grants help put people back on the streets and target specific areas,” Cortes said.
Cortes said not every week is packed with extra hours. Winters, for instance, are rather slow. In the summer, when Newport hosts all the events that make it a go-to vacation destination, officers like Cortes rack up the additional hours.
“There could be times in the winter where I only work eight hours extra in the week, and in the summer I’m working 80 hours a week,” he said.
Basically, Cortes does what many people do to make ends meet: he’s working two jobs, but for the same organization. Fitzgerald argues that police officers cannot from pick up extra shifts at a local supermarket or other business because they must be available to the police department.
“Their primary employment is the police, it’s their number one priority,” Fitzgerald said. “Since police can't work another job like normal people can, it’s the only way they can make extra.”
If an officer does wish to pursue secondary employment, he or she must get the permission of the chief and ensure the responsibility will not conflict with the department.
Fitzgerald said the police department uses so much overtime, instead of hiring new employees, because the contract between the police union and the city restricts the department to a team of 78 officers. With the number decreasing over the past 15 years from 92, to 85, to finally 78, he said the department is stretched.
“Even with the reduced manpower, the demand for service hasn’t changed,” he said. The community policing Newport is known for would be significantly decreased without the overtime hours officers put in, he said. “Community policing is always on the chopping block. If it’s cut, the people wouldn’t get that specialized service.”
One of the biggest issues, he said, was burning out a department of 78 doing the work of 85 officers.
Fitzgerald said working the extra hours to pay for a house and car, which is what he did in his early days as an officer, is the American dream. He also said people should remember that the more the officers make in overtime, they more they pay back in taxes as well.
Below is a breakdown of Officer Jonathan Cortes' hours and pay regarding overtime and special detail in 2010.Hours Rate Total Overtime 683 $42.23 $30,934 Special Detail 565 $41/hr** $23,200 Salary 2080*
$62,944 Total Hours in 2010 (approximate) 3,326 $117,078
*Based on 40 hour work week for 52 weeks.
**The flat rate for special detail is $50 an hour. According to Lt. Fitzgerald, approximately $41 dollars goes to the officer and $9 goes to the city.