Bomb Dogs, ‘Goon Squad,’ Subway Cops: Who’s Making a Killing in NYPD Overtime

Eric Adams pledged to cut police overtime in half. Instead, his initiatives helped it soar to the second-highest level on record.

Chris Gelardi   ·   November 16, 2022
An explosive-sniffing NYPD canine at 42nd StreetPort Authority Bus Terminal. | Wikimedia Commons

OFFICER ANDREW RIGEL worked more overtime than anyone else in the New York City Police Department last fiscal year: 2,002 extra hours, akin to nearly 79-hour work weeks.

Though exceptional, he was hardly alone. Rigel was the leader of a high-earning pack: The NYPD Transit Bureau’s canine unit, which patrols the subways with bomb-sniffing dogs, contained the police force’s top nine active over-workers. Rigel and eight peers pulled in an average of 1,700 bonus hours in fiscal year 2022 — up 67 percent from 2021 and 35 percent from 2020. Altogether, Transit’s 45 active dog wranglers cost the city about $2.3 million in overtime.

The canine cops are among the top earners in a recent NYPD overtime boon. Between June 2021 and June 2022, the department hit its second-highest recorded level of overtime by uniformed officers — $762 million — overshooting its budget by more than $100 million. Despite this rampant overspending, the public often doesn’t know where the money goes.

City budget reports break the numbers down by which office appropriates overtime spending, rather than which units actually spend it. But a New York Focus analysis sheds new light. Using an open-source program published by citizen watchdog Eric Spishak-Thomas, New York Focus merged city Office of Payroll Administration numbers with a snapshot of the NYPD’s officer profiles. The resulting data set — which doesn’t include cops who left the force between June 2021 and late October — offers a near-complete breakdown of uniformed overtime spending by unit and individual officer.

The numbers reveal the NYPD’s most frequent overtimers: subway cops, a notorious “goon squad,” surveillance units, and drug police, among others.

The data also offer insight into the financial burden Mayor Eric Adams’s many policing initiatives are taking on city coffers. Before becoming mayor in January, Adams committed to halving NYPD overtime by the end of his first year in office. But instead of taking care of the overtime problem, the mayor’s attempts to address subway safety concerns, homelessness, and gun violence with more policing are almost certainly contributing to it.

“The amount of leeway that the NYPD is given to go over their overtime budget is pretty extraordinary,” said Ileana Méndez-Peñate, program director for Communities United for Police Reform. “It’s a prime example of NYPD budget bloat.”

The mayor’s office did not respond to New York Focus’s emails. In response to specific questions, an NYPD spokesperson sent a general statement, asserting that overtime “is instrumental in addressing crime trends, conducting investigations, and deploying enhanced resources to critical areas, including transit.”

Police officers arresting someone and dragging them away.
NYPD Strategic Response Group officers conduct a homeless encampment raid on May 4, 2022. | Chris Gelardi / New York Focus

Tough on Crime

In the year since Adams made his campaign promise to crack down on overtime abuse, the priority has fallen by the wayside. As the Republican party seized on crime narratives nationwide, the Democratic mayor pushed more police patrols as a way to remedy his party’s electoral woes — though the argument gave an underwhelming performance in the recent midterms. “When working people say they want safer streets,” Adams wrote in a post-mortem of the elections, when Democrats in New York underperformed badly enough to, in all likelihood, cost their party a US House majority, “we put more officers on them.”

As lurid crime stories drive public fear of the subway system, both Adams and his predecessor, Bill de Blasio — whose tenures bisected last fiscal year — have flooded it with more and more police. Just days after becoming mayor, Adams announced the largest deployment in the NYPD Transit Bureau’s history, sending more than 1,000 extra officers into the subway system. In April, after a mass shooting at a Sunset Park subway station, Adams vowed to double the underground police presence. And last month, he and Governor Kathy Hochul announced an initiative that would approve 1,200 additional overtime hours per day for subway patrols.

The subway initiatives add to an already massive overtime haul for the Transit Bureau, one of several recipients of the subway patrol-driven overtime boom. During the last fiscal year, active officers assigned to the bureau’s various patrol districts averaged roughly double the overtime pay of their above-ground counterparts: nearly $23,400 per officer, compared to less than $11,900 for non-detective precinct cops and $13,300 for officers assigned to patrol public housing.

While subway dog unit officers worked the most overtime hours, higher-salaried cops in NYPD specialty units raked in the most overtime cash. This was particularly true among the euphemistically named teams within the NYPD’s counterterrorism and surveillance apparatus, like the Critical Response Command, the Strategic Response Group, the Joint Terrorist Task Force, and the Criminal Intelligence Section.

The spending onslaught follows at least a short-term trend: A City Council reportfrom 2020 — the only year to exceed 2022 in NYPD overtime — showed that terrorism, intelligence, and drug teams were among the top overtime spenders. That year covered the height of the pandemic and its uprisings against racism and policing; two years later, a report from the state comptroller attributes the near-record overtime to “increased crime-reduction deployments” and more need for security detail as the city “continues its return to pre-pandemic conditions.” It also doesn’t help that the NYPD is experiencing record retirement rates, while officers have complained about higher-ups forcing them to take overtime shifts.

The NYPD’s various drug units averaged nearly $40,000 and more than 660 hours in overtime per active cop last year, roughly doubling the average officer’s $18,000 and 370 hours and running up an at least $25.1 million tab for the city. Its uniformed intelligence teams, which sift through information gathered by field officers and the NYPD’s sprawling high-tech surveillance network — another source of opaque NYPD overspending — averaged 540 hours of overtime an officer, costing taxpayers at least $16.8 million.

Raking in an average of $45,000 working 565 overtime hours was the FBI-collaborating Joint Terrorist Task Force, not to be confused with the Critical Response Command, one of the “first lines of defense against a terrorist-related attack,” whose officers worked an average of about 580 overtime hours, costing the city at least $9.5 million.

The Critical Response Command’s brother unit, the Strategic Response Group, racked up an overtime bill of $22,000 per officer. The unit, better known to the public as the “goon squad,” is supposedly 700 strong, but NYPD profile data only list around 460 as currently deployed. Still, those 460 cost the city $10.2 million in overtime last year — not far off from their record $15 million in 2020. In June 2020, the last month of the fiscal year, the group was deployed nightly to brutally police protesters.

NYPD Strategic Response Group officers conduct a homeless encampment raid on April 6, 2022. | Chris Gelardi / New York Focus

Street Sweeps

Formed in 2015, the Strategic Response Group is the poster child for post-9/11 scope creep, expanding its mission from counterterrorism to protest suppression to general street crime policing. Since Adams entered office, Strategic Response Group officers have carried out his ramped-up homeless encampment raids, and the NYPD has repeatedly sicced the terrorism unit on residents who refuse to leave their tents.

Under Adams, the homeless harassment beat has proved lucrative for units beyond the Strategic Response Group. In March, after businesses complained about “deteriorating conditions” in Midtown Manhattan, the NYPD created the Business Improvement Deployment Team to police for homelessness and so-called quality of life crimes in shopping areas. Though the initiative began three-quarters of the way through the fiscal year and three months into Adams’s tenure, the 30 specially assigned officers finished with huge overtime hauls, averaging nearly $28,000 for 510 extra hours a piece.

Adams has also increased cops’ street presence to combat the city’s Covid-era rise in shootings. His flagship gun violence policing initiative — the Neighborhood Safety Teams, a uniformed revival of the lethal plainclothes anti-crime units — also only started operations in earnest in March. The NYPD has so far refused to release the official roster, but the 240 officers who have been trained for the units raked in almost $23,000 on average working nearly 600 hours of overtime last fiscal year.

That figure pales in comparison to Adams’s other major gun violence policing initiative: the Gun Violence Suppression Division, a firearm-tracking detective unit that Adams expanded in January. Last year, the active officers in the division worked nearly 650 overtime hours on average, earning an extra $730 a week per officer and costing the city around $7.3 million.

Despite NYPD overtime continuing to reach record levels, it doesn’t look like Adams is going to let up on the extra deployments any time soon — evidence of what Méndez-Peñate refers to as “NYPD budget exceptionalism.”

“There’s such a high level of discretion that the NYPD has,” she said, “And there’s such a low level of oversight and accountability.”

Chris Gelardi is a reporter for New York Focus investigating the state’s criminal-legal system. His work has appeared in more than a dozen other outlets, most frequently The Nation, The Intercept, and The Appeal. He is a past recipient of awards from Columbia… more
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