In many communities across the U.S., public safety spending accounts for 70-80% of the general fund budget. While these services (like police and fire departments) are indispensable, the rising spending levels they demand can crowd out other municipal priorities, including infrastructure and other services, from increasingly constrained budgets. For many communities, a significant part of this budgetary burden stems from public safety overtime (OT). While much OT is a necessary byproduct of understaffed departments meeting rising demands, some communities have found savings through diligent review of their OT spend. Taking into account all of these factors, a major midwestern city of approximately 500,000 set out to develop an analytics-driven system to better understand and track its fire department OT spend — and to identify tangible opportunities for savings in the process.
In the fall of 2016, the city engaged Mike Brink — then working for a different firm — to assist with analyzing its fire department OT spend. Over a period of approximately six months, Brink led a consultant team of forensic accountants and data scientists to conduct interviews, dissect payroll processes, review collective bargaining agreements, and analyze large amounts of OT data to develop recommendations and analytics tools enabling the fire department to better understand and manage its OT spend.
The project team analyzed approximately five years of data from the city’s timekeeping system, its payroll system and its emergency response data. Additionally, the team reviewed the city’s collective bargaining agreements with its fire department union. To analyze the OT spend, the team joined the payroll and time-worked data and applied OT calculations based on employee type and payroll codes. The consultant team then conducted an exploratory analysis of the historical data. Using the analytics and visualization software Tableau, team members created multiple prototype dashboards to organize and analyze the data. The dashboards were organized to answer questions such as: what are the major trends in OT spending? What are the major outliers? What are the main drivers of OT spend? How is OT correlated with the number of emergency calls? The team also analyzed the collective bargaining agreements (CBA) and researched OT management best practices from other communities.
The prototype dashboards were designed to serve as the basis for production dashboards that fire department battalion chiefs and other managers can use in daily operations to track and manage OT. They can draw conclusions from the data and adjust employee scheduling and response configurations in order to achieve specific OT budget goals. Perhaps more importantly, the OT and emergency response data can be used to make longer-term changes in fire department staffing models to reduce the amount of future increase in OT and overall staffing costs. Furthermore, the project team identified five instances in which a significant amount of OT was being paid to FD employees despite no justification for such pay from the CBA. Changes to such unnecessary practices can drive immediate savings to the department’s OT budget.