Wayne County jails spend almost $20 million in overtime; officials agree new hires would be cheaper

Ficano says Napoleon needs to trim fat first

DETROIT (WXYZ) - There is money to burn at the Wayne County jail.

Not the new one--slated to cost $91 million more than was ever budgeted--it's happening at the county's three old jails. It's a problem 7 Action news exposed more than 15 months ago , that county brass has failed to solve.

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"We're hemorrhaging!" said Greg Hattaway, a retired Wayne County Corporal who spent years as the department's union president.

"The City of Detroit has its financial problems, and Wayne County, at this rate, we're following them," he said.

Wayne County's jails are so understaffed that the county's paying out huge amounts of overtime just to cover all the shifts.  In about a year, they've blown through more than $19,500,000 in overtime alone.

"It's not like when there's overtime, you're going do an extra hour or two hours," Hattaway said.  "You're going do an extra 8 hour [shift]. That's 16 hours!

One deputy alone worked more than 2,100 hours in overtime, according to records obtained by 7 Action News.  That's 41 extra hours every week for a year, costing the county another $83,245. 

That's just one example; the list of payouts is more than 3,000 names long. 

Those sweetened earnings help fatten deputies' annual pensions, too.  A recent report said the county's pension system was only 50% funded.

 Many times, deputies actually refuse the double shifts but are ordered to work them anyway.

"That says something when somebody refuses overtime,"Jones said to Hattaway.

"They've been dealing with this for so long, they're tired, they're exhausted. They're worn out," Hattaway said.

E-mails obtained by 7 Action News document deputies "collapsing at work."  One was sent to the hospital after working "doubles almost every day."

To cut down on all that fatigue, and reduce the cost of overtime, the Sheriff's office is pushing to hire 150 new deputies. They'd cost almost half as much as a current deputy on overtime, and the sheriff says it would save almost $8 million a year.

That's money that could go a long way at a jail that's letting out inmates to save cash. Inmates accused of violent crimes are put on tethers. That almost $8 million could lock up 147 accused criminals for a year.

Ficano's office insists that Napoleon needs to first trim the fat from his own budget before asking for more funds to hire staff. But even Bob Ficano's deputy CFO Kevin Haney agrees that new deputies would save the county money.

"Is it cheaper to do that?  Yes," he said at a county commission meeting last week.

The problem, Haney insists, is that there's not enough funding to hire them. 

"I have no problem you moving the budget around and given the sheriff more money, but you're going to take it from somebody else," he said.

But even commissioners say that excuse doesn't make sense. The county is already spending money not in its budget to pay all that overtime. Sheriff's officials suggest using money normally spent on overtime to hire the cheaper deputies.

"They spent $19 million in overtime...where are you getting that money from every month? Every 2 weeks? The same place you're getting that money from, go draw five million, whatever it costs," Hattaway said.

Contact Investigator Ross Jones at rjones@wxyz.com or at (248) 827-9466.

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