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Police overtime rose by nearly 200 per cent last year

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Police officers’ allowances and overtime pay rose by nearly 200 per cent in 2016 as the state started paying them in full following years of austerity since 2013 during which they were granted days off in lieu.

According to a report published on Wednesday by the auditor-general, members of the force received some €25m in allowances and overtime pay, a figure that represents 15 per cent of the entire payroll of €171m.

The figure was broken down into Sunday and bank holiday allowance, €11.4m, shift allowance, €6.6m, and overtime pay, €5.3m, a 184 per cent rise overall.

In 2015, officers were paid €1.87m in overtime, a sum that was more or less the same for the three years before that when part of the overtime pay was replaced with days off.

The auditor struck a note of caution over the number of accumulated days still on the cards that had been granted in lieu of overtime pay, which had reached 76,715 hours in 2015.

“Accumulating a high number of rest days should seriously concern the police, and the finance ministry, so as to avoid problems experienced in the past, which resulted in the state paying huge sums of money,” the report said.

The main issue would be if the accumulated rest days were paid in the future when the officer in question would most probably be on a higher pay scale, the report said.

“This will entail a substantial rise in cost since payment will be based on the last salary.”

The chief of police informed the audit service that the number of hours due at the end of 2016 was 62,370 and efforts were being made to prevent a further rise.

The chief said lack of staff was an obstacle in the effort but he expected the situation to improve somewhat with the recruitment of 210 new officers.

The auditor also recommended revisiting coverage of the cost of policing sporting events by the respective federations, as was the practice in certain countries.

According to the report, police officers on duty at sporting events, mostly football matches, in 2016 were paid around €1.2m in overtime — €896,488 in 2015.

The chief said the matter was discussed twice in 2016 and one issue raised was the contribution of football clubs towards the cost of policing.

The football association told the authorities that clubs were not prepared to cover the cost.

A measure that could reduce the cost of policing was the introduction in 2014 of stewards who are paid by the clubs.

Police had said at the time that the number of officers on duty at football matches was not expected to be cut substantially at first but it was something that would happen gradually.

The audit service asked whether stewards would reduce the cost of policing paid by taxpayers and were told that reasons of public order and security, as well as the benefit from a more effective control of events, dictated that it was necessary to continue staffing them with adequate personnel.

Police said its strong presence had averted serious incidents of violence at sports facilities and areas around football clubs.

“(The chief of police) also told us that based on the above, no reduction in the cost of overtime is expected, at least during the current year, as well as next year,” the report said. “However, ways for more efficient deployment of stewards were being explored in a bid to cut the presence of police officers at sporting events to the absolute minimum.”

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