After V.I. Police Department Commissioner Trevor Velinor testified during Thursday’s budget hearing, it was clear the struggle with employee overtime costs plaguing the department has persisted despite the prior fiscal year’s radical 42 percent drop in overtime.
The department has had a longstanding issue with excessive overtime costs, and Velinor said it is projected the department will pay out over $17 million in overtime payments in fiscal year 2021, which is 26 percent higher than the last fiscal year.
While the department budgets for overtime, the end costs result in much larger overtime payments than what is anticipated. Velinor said in fiscal year 2020 the department budgeted $2.5 million but spent over $13.5 million. In the current fiscal year, the department had budgeted $4.5 million but overtime costs are projected to exceed this by $12.5 million.
Sen. Kurt Vialet, committee chairperson, asked Velinor why overtime costs have risen and
if the rise was attributed to employing more police officers.
But Velinor said the number of officers has remained the same each year, though fluctuations in the number of employees occurred because of new hires and retirees. Instead, he attributed the rise in overtime to new policing strategies that require more manpower.
“Police work is not an eight-to-five. You are responding and you are responding very aggressively to the needs of the community,” Velinor said. “Additionally, we’ve really implemented a couple strategies that include our focused deterrence approach, which really requires us to put more resources out there to have more presence in different areas. For policing we want to be as proactive as we possibly can. So with that being said, we have actually pushed more police officers out there, and they’re working longer hours, and they are working hard.”
Velinor also cited the COVID-19 for causing a rise in overtime hours. Around $1.4 million in overtime hours were paid as a direct result of pandemic-related duties, Velinor said.
Sen. Marvin Blyden said if the department truly wanted a reduction in both overtime costs and crime rates in the U.S. Virgin Islands, then the department should focus on crime prevention programs and initiatives.
“To me, we are focusing on the back end and not the front,” Blyden said. “We need to focus on the preventative programs and other not-for-profits that assist the police department … to prevent us from spending all that money in all the different areas that includes overtime.”
The department’s entire requested Fiscal Year 2022 budget is nearly $84 million. The following 2023 year’s budget reflects a $2 million increase for a proposed $86 million budget.
Separately, the committee also heard from Law Enforcement Planning Commission officials about a requested FY 2022 budget of nearly $800,000.
Sens. Marvin Blyden, Samuel Carrion, Dwayne DeGraff, Donna Frett-Gregory, and Kurt Vialet were present for the hearing. Sens. Javan James Sr. and Janelle Sarauw were absent. Additional senators who are not committee members were also present.