Long Beach Police spent nearly $1 million in overtime for night of May 31 civil unrest

The Long Beach Police Department spent nearly $1 million in overtime costs handling the unrest on May 31 after a mass police brutality protest devolved into a night of looting and chaos.

In all, the department spent a total of $3.8 million and 45,993 hours in taxpayer-funded overtime for a roughly two-week period from May 30 through June 16, when the city saw civil unrest and dozens of mostly peaceful protests in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The city provided the figures on Tuesday in response to a public records request filed by the Post. 

More than 3,000 people marched through Downtown Long Beach on May 31 amid nationwide police brutality protest. While the march was mostly peaceful, the evening took a turn as looters and vandals fanned across the city, causing destruction to roughly 200 businesses and prompting officials to call in the National Guard and other agencies for help.

The department later garnered criticism from businesses owners, rank-in-file officers and community members who said police weren’t prepared and didn’t act fast enough to stop the looting. For his part, Police Chief Robert Luna has defended his department’s response.

“I can almost tell you that based on the information we had, we actually overstaffed based on what we thought was going to happen,” Luna told the Long Beach City Council in June.

The department in a statement said: “In response to events unfolding in our City and for the safety for both our community and officers, the Police Department initiated a Stage 3 Tactical Alert, meaning officers were held over on their shifts,  doubled up in cars, and were immediately called to respond to their assigned duties.”

For May 31, the department spent a total of $511,533 in overtime hours. The department spent another $467,407 in overtime the following day on June 1 as the unrest continued. The city saw more than two dozen smaller protests in the two weeks that followed.

The $3.8 million accounts for about one-third of the department’s $11.8 million budgeted overtime in the General Fund this year. This does not include additional overtime funded through grants, the department noted. 

Other cities also saw big bills for police overtime in the wake of mass protests. The Los Angeles Police Department was forced to pay its officers in compensation time after it spent more than $40 million in overtime costs, depleting its reserves.

New York City spent $155 million on police overtime from May 30 through June 12, which is more than four times higher than the same time last year.

San Diego paid $8.5 million and logged 110,000 in overtime over a two-week period.

The Long Beach Police Department in recent years has spent about twice its General Fund budgeted overtime.

In 2018, the department spent $24.8 million in overtime, compared to the roughly $11.6 million General Fund budget. In 2017, the department spent $19.6 million in overtime, compared to its roughly $11 million budget.

While its overtime is over budget, Long Beach Financial Management Director John Gross noted that the department overall has actually come under budget in the past five years due in part to officers working overtime rather than the department filling vacant positions. Overtime is less expensive than having an additional full-time police officer do the same work, he said.

“Long Beach, similar to many other cities, manages the budget only to a department’s bottom line and the Long Beach Police Department has been a major contributor to annual budget savings,” Gross wrote in an email.

The costs come as activists across the country have called for defunding police departments and investing those funds in more community programs.

Long Beach has proposed a $10.3 million cut to the police department’s budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year, but with rising costs and other expenses, the actual proposed police budget would be about $4 million less than the current 2019-20 budget.

The plan would including cutting 34 police officer positions and creating 29 new civilian jobs. The department’s total proposed budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, is $260 million.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a statement from the Long Beach Police Department and clarification from the city on the police department’s budget. 

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Kelly Puente is a general assignment and special projects reporter at the Long Beach Post. Her prolific reporting has taken her all over Southern California—even to the small Catalina Island town of Two Harbors. She is a Tiki mug collector and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in public policy and administration at Cal State Long Beach. Reach her at [email protected].
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