Oro Valley’s police chief defended his department against a town councilman’s complaints that the department doles out unnecessary employee perks, overspends on overtime and pays too much for a youth program.

In a pair of Town Council reports obtained by the Arizona Daily Star, the town deflected Councilman Mike Zinkin‘s claims that the Police Department spends wastefully.

Dated March 13 and April 7, the documents are addressed to the Town Council from Oro Valley Police Chief Daniel Sharp, Town Manager Greg Caton and finance director Stacey Lemos.

Citing a council report titled “Police Department Overtime Expenses — December 2013,” which covered the period between July 1 and Dec. 31, 2013, Zinkin’s chief complaints were these:

  • The department lends out 62 town-owned law enforcement vehicles that officers are able to keep at home. Of the take-home vehicles, 14 are used by employees who live more than 10 miles from Town Hall, making for round trips of 20 miles or more. Six vehicles are used for commutes that are 40-mile or more round trips from Town Hall, and one commute is 83 miles.
  • The department spent too liberally on overtime. The Oro Valley Explorer Post program, which connects youths with law enforcement activities and training, cost $12,806.49 in overtime. Combined with other expenses, the program costs about $33,000 a year. In the first six months of fiscal year 2014, the department spent $402,109 in overtime, 85.1 percent of its $472,613 allotment from the general fund.
  • The department was not clear about breaking down overtime expenditures by category, allotting 40 percent of general fund revenues allotted for overtime as “other” or “miscellaneous.”

Caton did not respond to an interview request through town spokeswoman Misti Nowak.

Zinkin said he wants the Police Department to be moved under Caton. Currently, the Town Council oversees the police.

“Just put the Police Department under the town manager and let’s get on with life,” Zinkin said. “I don’t need to be this vigilant. I don’t need to be the mean guy asking these questions. It’s not my job. It’s the town manager’s job. He can ask these kinds of questions of the Police Department and chief of police.”

Town Councilman Bill Garner said he, too, wants the department to be moved under the purview of the town manager, and would like to commission a management study to evaluate the department’s budget. He also wants the town to change its overtime policy so that premium pay is only given for hours worked. For instance, a town employee could take 40 hours of vacation, then work a weekend shift and receive eight hours of overtime pay.

OVPD’s response

Sharp said the Explorer program is worthwhile because it’s a positive way to connect with youths, some of whom are at-risk, with law enforcement. He said the department doesn’t calculate the cost of the program on a per-participant basis, instead taking a larger view of community service.

”We kind of put that out there as an opportunity for our youth to come together in a positive setting and learn about community service, discipline, teamwork, team-building, character building and networking,” he said, adding that he views the effort as a crime-prevention initiative as well.

Department spokeswoman Lt. Kara Riley said the department isn’t running out of overtime funds, because the shortfall would be made up for by reimbursements of $130,953 in various grants, which raise the remaining overtime budget for the 2014 fiscal year to $201,456, meaning the $402,109 the department spent on overtime in the first six months of the fiscal year amounts to 57.3 percent of the overtime budget capacity.

Sharp said the department decides which officers get to take home vehicles on a case-by-case basis, ensuring that it will work out well for both the department and employee.

”We give somebody a car not for them to be able to drive to and from work, but to be available,” he said. “If something happens, they would have to go out of their way to go to the station and get a car. It makes us more efficent.”

Sharp said overtime is necessary due to staffing limitations.

”We are probably at the point where we need more staff,” he said. “We haven’t been up to full staffing, so what happens is we have to pay overtime until we get people hired and trained,” adding that it can take more than a year to fill a given position.

Oro Valley is authorized to employ 100 officers, making for a ratio of about 2.4 officers per 1,000 residents. Staffing issues have reduced the force to 92 officers. By comparison, Marana has 79 officers, for a ratio of about two officers per 1,000 residents.

Riley said the department had already merged its “miscellaneous” and “other” overtime categories before Zinkin asked about them.

Sour grapes?

There are political and personal aspects to the issue. Zinkin said he believed forces from the Police Department, along with Mayor Satish Hiremath, tried to get him out of office by orchestrating a recall petition in 2013, which he classified partially as retribution for his questioning OVPD’s spending.

The recall effort failed, and Zinkin said the push to remove him did not leave him with an ax to grind against the department.

Sharp said neither he nor anyone with the department retaliated against Zinkin or has any problem answering questions about the budget. He calls Zinkin’s assertion that the police were behind the recall “ridiculous.”

”If he has specific information about the department or me behind his recall, I’d certainly love to review it,” Sharp said. “But the fact is that he hasn’t got it because, frankly, it doesn’t exist.”

Garner said he believes the Police Department was behind Zinkin’s recall and that he feels the department has pushed back against him, as well, for questioning its tactics.

”Unfortunatley, this department is a prima donna department. It tries to put candidates forward sympathetic to it so its interest can go unchecked,” Garner said. “It’s union politics and thuggery that goes on.”

The mayor’s take

Hiremath said he gets frustrated when council members pick apart the budget.

”It’s one of those things I really can’t comprehend,” he said. “You get elected officials who say they are fiscally responsible, and it’s their job to save nickels. It’s not really their job to save a nickel. It’s really how best to spend the nickel .”

Hiremath said OVPD’s work speaks for itself, given that the town is routinely lauded as one of the nation’s safest suburbs. He said it doesn’t make sense to mess with those results, which draw families and businesses.

In the 2015 fiscal year budget Caton has recommended, the Police Department will receive $14.2 million, 13.2 percent of the total recommended budget of $107.1 million.

”I get frustrated because it comes to how much we want to save. If you cut off another $10 or $292.76, where do you want to take that number, and for what purpose?” Hiremath said.

”I have an issue when we get elected officials who want to tell department directors how to do something in order to save money, but don’t really know the ramifications of actually putting handcuffs on the Police Department.”

Contact reporter Phil Villarreal at 573-4130 or pvillarreal@azstarnet.com