The report shows 63% of the department’s budget is spent on salaries, with more than $10 million going to overtime pay in 2019.

A UCLA School of Law Criminal Justice Program report claims SMPD overtime calculations are out of step with broader trends but city officials have said the expenses are necessary to provide the quality of service expected by Santa Monica residents.

Key findings, according to a press release provided by study authors, include what they describe as a “unique provision” in the department’s budget that allows local law enforcement officers to earn overtime pay based on salaries that factor in “certain additional bonuses and overtime pay.”

That provision is “unique among other police departments that we’ve fetched,” one of the report’s authors, Leah Gasser-Ordaz, said.

“In the other police departments that we’ve studied, we’ve usually seen overtime calculated as a 1.5 time multiplier of the base salary,” she added.

Another provision in officers’ salaries is an “equity adjustment” in the department memorandum of understanding, or MOU, with the City of Santa Monica attaching their rate of pay to those of 10 other LA County police departments.

According to the report, the median total pay for an SMPD officer in 2019—factoring in base pay, overtime and “other pay”—was $173,714, making it higher than the median total pay of all 10 of the other departments listed in the MOU, including El Segundo, Beverly Hills, Glendale, Pasadena and Redondo Beach. Other pay, the report stated, could mean additional income due to years of continuous service, promotional pay for officers who receive promotions and educational incentive pay. “Police officers, sergeants, lieutenants, and captains are paid an additional amount based on their level of higher education at an accredited college, or by their level of state certification through the Commission on Peace Officer Standards & Training,” the report detailed.

In the years from 2015 to 2019, overtime pay increased by 59 percent, while the number of police officers increased by 22 percent. The highest overtime pay went to an officer who made $178,162 in overtime in 2019, with a total salary, excluding benefits, of $335,551.

Out of a department budget of $94,167,032 for 2019, $10.5 million was spent on overtime pay and $8.9 million was spent on “other pay.”

The Santa Monica Police Officers Association provided a statement in response to the report.

“The Santa Monica Police Department has been faced with significant labor shortages because of recruitment and other challenges and so the need to do more with less has never been greater to keep our city safe,” according to the statement. “The overtime hours put in by our dedicated officers in the face of these labor shortages are needed now more than ever.”

The statement also said “substantial and topflight public safety resources and personnel are required to keep our resident and tourist population safe.”

In a statement, the City said the report doesn’t acknowledge the cost of staffing special events, some of which are reimbursed.

“Overtime is used to fulfill deployment needs to address our City’s safety and special needs related to the Santa Monica Pier, beaches and business districts, which includes filming assignments and special events,” said the statement. “The time period of 2015 to 2019 highlighted in the report includes the Twilight Concert Series on the Pier and the Los Angeles Marathon, both special events that required considerable direct contributions from the City. Reimbursed costs for filming shoots and events do not appear to be captured in the report findings.”

The statement said the report also misses important context related to a period of increased retirements that have impacted vacancies within the department.

“SMPD utilized personnel on overtime to fill those vacancies and to address crime and quality of life issues to keep our city safe,” said the statement. “In 2019, Santa Monica experienced a 15% decrease in crime. SMPD is actively recruiting quality new officers who meet our high standards to fulfill base level staffing, which will reduce current overtime.”

The UCLA report is the third in an ongoing series of findings compiled by the law school with a goal of spreading public awareness about police budget priorities and how they compare to both other aspects of municipal budgets and other police departments around Los Angeles County.

“What we really wanted to do was kind of uncover some of that data and information and present it in a way that was helpful for the community and the public to understand as they are grappling with questions about budgetary priorities, and ‘where should our precious tax dollars go?’ essentially,” Gasser-Ordaz said. The project has already released reports delving into the budgets of the Pasadena and Culver City police departments, with more planned for 2022.

According to Gasser-Ordaz, a juvenile justice fellow with UCLA Law, she and co-author Alicia Virani (the Criminal Justice Program director) began the project in mid-2020 following the murder of George Floyd and subsequent focus on police reform nationwide.

“[We] saw that there was a dearth of research on police budgets and police memorandums of understanding with local jurisdictions and so we wanted to do a deeper dive and do our research into these budgets and into the types of spending that municipalities are doing on policing locally,” Gasser-Ordaz described.

The author said the department cast a wide net, issuing public record requests to cities across Los Angeles County, and that the three studies so far came from cities whose police departments or websites provided the information necessary to draw conclusions. While more individual cities’ police department budgets may go under the microscope, Gasser-Ordaz said authors were “also considering doing a bigger report that gathers together all the findings we’d need across agencies, and maybe using some of the data from the agencies that we didn’t necessarily feel like we have enough to do a whole report on like Santa Monica’s.”

When asked if focusing on cities that provided detailed budgetary information was placing pressure specifically on agencies and departments that were cooperating with record requests, Gasser-Ordaz said they were planning to continue making requests and focusing on agencies that had not been immediately forthcoming.

“I think that with these PRA [Public Record Act] requests, they take a lot of time, especially with the bigger agencies,” Gasser-Ordaz said. “So, it’s definitely a priority to look closely at some of the agencies that maybe haven’t been as forthcoming or haven’t provided as much data as we need. But a little bit of it has been a capacity issue. In the next year, we anticipate having the ability and the time to sit down and continue doing those requests and continue focusing on those agencies that we maybe haven’t focused on so much this year.”

emily@smdp.com