By Keith Eddings
---- — LAWRENCE — The city rang up a $81,943 bill for police details for the Nov. 5 municipal election and subsequent recount of the mayoral race between Daniel Rivera and Mayor William Lantigua.
In all, the city paid $61,243 for police details from election day through the recount, about three times what it typically pays because of the time it took to get to the recount and declare a winner. Police guarded the ballots, which were stored in a locked vault in the basement of City Hall, around the clock until the recount on Nov. 23.
The city spent another $20,700 to assign cops to the polling places in the preliminary election, bringing the total police bill for this year’s election, when voters elected a mayor, council and school committee, to $81,943.
Police Officer Carl Farrington worked nine overtime shifts standing guard over the ballots in the 18 days between the election and the re-count that followed, earning a total of $2,819 and making him the best paid of the 48 cops who worked election details last month, payroll records show.
The bill for the election details is easy to run up because cops are paid time-and-a-half to work them, since they occur outside their regular shifts. They also get nighttime differentials.
The payday for police gets even richer because of a practice that gives superior officers first dibs on the overtime shifts.
This year, half of the 20 officers assigned to the polling places on Nov. 5 were sergeants, lieutenants or captains who earned up to $82.18 an hour, more than twice what some of the rank-and-file officers were paid to work the polls, the records show.
In contrast, the poll workers, clerks and wardens who run elections are paid $120 to $200 for the day, which is longer than 12 hours.
After he was appointed by the state three years ago to oversee the city’s budget and given veto power over spending, Robert Nunes said cutting off the superior officers from the election details, so that captains aren’t doing work a rookie patrolman could do, might be a place where savings could be eked out.
Nunes acknowledged that it hasn’t happened.
“There were discussions,” Nunes said. “I was not involved in those discussions.”
Mayor-elect Rivera said he will seek to change the practice after he takes office in three weeks. Rivera defeated Lantigua by 83 votes in the recount.
“Working the polls should not be a prize, a boon for anyone,” Rivera said. “It should just be the basics.”
Acting Police Chief James Fitzpatrick said giving superior officers first pick of the election details and similar details, including parades, is not in their contract. But he said it’s been a long-standing practice and so could invite a union grievance if it’s changed. But he also said it’s the chief’s job to assign police in the most efficient manner, so he said “steps can be taken in that direction.”
For Farrington, working overtime is a way of life, payroll records show. So far this year, he’s earned about $50,000 in overtime and special duty pay, which about doubled his salary, payroll records show.
The overtime shifts Farrington worked over the 18 days were in addition to whatever regular shifts he worked over the same period, meaning that some of his workdays were 16 hours long.
Fitzpatrick said 16- hour workdays generally are the maximum allowed for police, but added that “fatigue is always is a concern.”
Farrington did not return a telephone message left for him at the Police Department.
The city budgeted $671,485 for police overtime this year. Nunes, the fiscal overseer, said there may not be enough of that left to cover the $37,631 spent for the police watch over the ballots before the recount, which was not anticipated in the budget. He said the overrun will be paid out of last year’s budget surplus.