Double overtime

Rumor has it the city’s new downtown police patrols may take paying officers double overtime

Is it worth paying Chico police officers $102 an hour to work downtown? Paying double overtime to get them to patrol the city center is one of the ideas floating around town, though city officials say there have been no formal talks about it.

I got wind of the double-overtime idea shortly before attending a bizarre press conference at the steps of the City Council chambers Monday morning. There, among dozens of community members, stood what looked like a united front on the subject of stepping up patrols in the region: Chico Police Chief Kirk Trostle, Melanie Bassett of the Downtown Chico Business Association, Clean and Safe Chico representative Jovanni Tricerri, Mayor Scott Gruendl, City Manager Mark Orme, and Katie Simmons, the Chico Chamber of Commerce’s president and CEO.

Simmons led off the conversation with an emotional plea (see “Spotlight hits downtown,” page 9). That wasn’t the bizarre part. After she spoke, one by one, those standing next to her gave their takes on the destructive, antisocial behavior exhibited by an increasingly large group of people who hang out downtown. At the end of the line was Trostle, whom one would assume was going to give the details about his department’s new efforts in the city center. Yet he remained silent. He literally said nothing.

Then, when the group sought out questions from the public, the first person to speak up was a Chico Police Officers’ Association representative asking how such a plan was even feasible since the department was stretched thin with officers already working forced overtime. He also mentioned that the department was having a hard time recruiting officers for open positions. (Gruendl later told me the positions had been open for only a week. The forced overtime started Oct. 1.)

In other words, the union rep was there to make the case that the department is understaffed and its officers overworked. I don’t doubt it. Chico has grown a lot over the years and so have calls for service. According to that union rep, Rich Hartman, the city has offered officers voluntary overtime for downtown patrols, but nobody has signed up.

The question is whether the union is going to use this issue as leverage. And is it going to take the taxpayers paying double overtime (that’s an officer’s salary plus 50 percent—times two) to get boots on the ground downtown? That $102 figure is based on the $34.24-an-hour wage the bargaining group’s reps always talk about as though its chump change. (Of course, if we’re talking about a sergeant, that figure will go higher.)

Right now, it’s too soon to tell.

In other news, the City Council voted Tuesday evening to agendize discussion about listing on the city website how much compensation, including benefits, each city worker makes. Fiscal watchdog Michael Jones made that request in the interest of transparency, especially as it relates to contract negotiations with the various unions. Three guesses on which one is currently in the bargaining process.