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Title: Terror, Y2K Work Profits P.A. Police
By Al Frank STAFF WRITER
Overtime isn't the gravy train it once was for Port Authority Police, but officers still got 23 percent more of it last year thanks to extra duty required to guard against terrorists and potential chaos from the Y2K rollover.
Although the calendar turned without incident, the 12-hour, just-in-case shifts police were ordered to work in late December and early January accounted for 13,000 of the 25,000 additional hours logged by officers during the holidays when Newark, Kennedy and LaGuardia airports were on high alert.
"It was the continuing tensions in the Middle East and anti-terrorist measures," said Fred Morrone, director of public safety for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
In addition to patrolling the airports, where almost half of all police overtime was amassed, the agency's force provides fire, crash and rescue services on the runways. Port Authority Police also patrol six interstate tunnels and bridges, marine and bus terminals, PATH and the World Trade Center.
The extra work came during a year when the ranks of the Port Authority's force were thinned by some 60 retirements, Morrone said. That, combined with higher paying new contracts, also contributed to a $22.8 million overtime tab that was more than $4 million higher than in 1998. The department's budget is $174 million.
On average, that meant an additional $18,000 in the wallets of the 1,250 officers on the force, about $3,000 more in overtime pay than they received in 1998. That year, they amassed some 389,265 additional hours, compared with 394,513 hours in 1999.
"I'd venture to say most cops don't like to work a lot of overtime," Morrone said. "But there's no choice when we have deficiencies and, under the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), we're mandated to man certain posts."
While high, this year's total remained below the $24.1 million paid in 1996, the year Morrone took his $125,000-a-year post in August with orders to rein in overtime costs that were an annual embarrassment.
Morrone came to the agency after a 29-year career at the State Police, a force half the size of the Port Authority's that traditionally allocates just a few million dollars per year for overtime. While last year's allocation for the New Jersey force was not immediately available, New York's 4,000 troopers were paid $29.5 million in overtime in the last year.
During Morrone's first full year on the job in 1997, overtime was slashed to 383,004 hours, 203,000 fewer hours than the year before.
The most extra time ever was the 772,062 hours clocked in 1993, the year the World Trade Center was bombed and officers were deployed in response to repeated terrorism threats. That year, the agency paid out $29.6 million and the average officer's payment came to $23,874.
In the past, top overtime earners frequently logged as many as 2,000 extra hours, or the equivalent of an additional year of work.
This year, however, none of the top 10 earners logged even 1,000 hours. Sgt. Paul Baden worked the most -- 955 hours -- netting him $57,296 in overtime above his $79,140 base salary. Once again patrol officers, whose base pay is $64,417, did not place among the top 10.
Morrone said some of this year's increase is also due to contract changes that saw overtime paid at higher pay scales. The contracts also imposed rules limiting overtime. When those caps are exceeded, the rules also prevent those who might seek to avoid extra duty from refusing it.
"There will always be overtime," Morrone said. "However, it's management's responsibility to continue to do more with less."
Morrone contended 60 percent of the overtime is still due to contract requirements, including paying officers for 15 minutes of preparation time before they begin their tours of duty.
"They're ordered to show up 15 minutes early and they're paid for it," said Gus Danese, president of the Port Authority Policemen's Benevolent Association Inc., which represents patrol officers. But he disputed Morrone's 60 percent figure, saying "all contractual issues that were troublesome to the Port Authority as far as premium pay goes have been negotiated out of the respective contracts."
As a result of the higher pay scales brought by the same contracts, overtime is not as big an issue with officers as it once was. "I think that kind of mentality is long gone," Danese said. "With the salary increases the PBA was able to obtain for the entire job, they're quite contented spending much more time in their off hours doing things to improve their personal quality of life."
Danese and Morrone said they expected a class of 85 recruits, which could begin training this summer, will further reduce overtime after they join the force next year. The last two classes added 95 officers to the ranks, which have an authorized strength of 1,350.
"Coming up to strength will go to balancing out some of the overtime," he said.
However, not all events can be planned. The crash of EgyptAir Flight 990 added overtime for officers assigned to control media and guard the privacy of victims' families at JFK. Overtime also was paid to deploy rescuers and a command center to inundated Bound Brook during Hurricane Floyd. This July, Operation Sail, the parade of tall ships through New York Harbor, is expected to require major outlays for overtime.
-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), April 10, 2000