ABC 7 I-Team Investigation: Montgomery County police make overtime millions in 911 call center

Since 2006, Chris Johnson, a sworn officer with the Montgomery County Police Department, has made $254,101.73 in overtime.

"It was a lot of money, lot of hours worked," he says. "Lots of time away from the family."

The money helped him send his son to college. "I was able to pay for it without having to get in debt, or him to get in debt, and try to provide him with a lot of better opportunities than I may have had."

Every year, Montgomery County spends millions of dollars on police overtime. The department takes up a quarter of the county's entire overtime budget. ABC 7 News discovered that over the last five years, just four officers made more than a million dollars in overtime.

Kimberly Jones, the top earner, made $387,754 in overtime over that period. Check out a list of all the top overtime earners here. All of those officers, as well as around ten others, made that money at the Emergency Call Center.

Since 2002, the county has paid more than $4.3 million to sworn officers working overtime in its call center. Check out detailed numbers here.

According to county figures, per hour, it would have cost half as much to hire civilians at the regular rate. The hourly wage for a full-time civilian there is $30.66. For an officer on overtime, it's $63.

"It's pretty wasteful," says Leslie Paige, spokesperson for Citizens Against Government Waste. "Taxpayers in Montgomery County are not getting their money's worth."

But Police Chief J. Thomas Manger says he had to have sworn officers work overtime in the call center. He says he couldn't find enough qualified and willing civilians to do the work full-time.

The job can be extremely stressful, he says, and have terrible hours. As a result, he says it's not unusual for departments to bring in officers on overtime to make up the difference.

"Every police chief and every department I'm aware of, they all struggle to maintain adequate staffing at those 911 centers," he says.

But ABC 7 News checked all the major police departments in the area, and the vast majority (all but Arlington and Alexandria) had no officers on overtime in their call centers whatsoever.

"If other counties are doing something that's working, there's no reason to reinvent the wheel. It's definitely a waste of taxpayers dollars," says Joe Wiegner, a county resident.

Kate Bollie, another taxpayer, echoed his concerns: "It sounds like they're really not putting the effort to find these people."

Citizens also wondered how, with record unemployment, the department could need to pay the overtime. "It would seem kind of outlandish in Montgomery county given the current economic crisis," says Josh Romanoff.

In July, the department stopped allowing sworn officers to work in the call center. Thanks to improved training, it has come a lot closer to keeping up with attrition. But this went on for ten years. And to this day, the center remains understaffed, so overtime payments continue (to civilians).

The good news is, as a result of ABC 7 News's reporting, county executive Ike Leggett says he will make changes. He will give the Chief more flexibility, so he can bring civilians on faster and sooner.