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Police, Fire Dominate Top Earners List

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By Jorge Casuso

August 23, 2023 -- When it comes to pay, it's a good time to be a sworn public safety worker in Santa Monica, thanks to recent salary hikes and plentiful overtime due to longstanding staffing shortages.

Of the 100 top wage earners working for the city last year, 48 were fire fighters and 42 were police officers, according to data compiled by Transparent California.

Those 90 public safety workers earned a total of $17,244,400 in base pay and $7,158,401 in overtime pay.

They also earned $5,559,348 in other pay, which includes payouts for unused vacation and sick leave, as well as incentive and bonus pay.

The top earner -- Fire Captain Bart J. Elrich -- earned $437,746.56 in total pay, excluding benefits. He made $157,142.82 in regular pay and $75,247.50 in other pay.

Elrich made a total of $564,085.33 in pay and benefits that included employer-paid health insurance and pension contributions for the year. But his largest single source of earnings -- $205,356.24 -- was from overtime.

Santa Monica's high public safety salaries -- which are reflected in cities across the region -- are in part due to pay increases approved by the City Council in 2022 to promote worker retention, City officials said.

Meanwhile, a high volume of service calls, coupled with low staffing levels, continues to strain the City's Police and Fire departments.

In 2022, the Police Department received 104,061 calls for service, while the Fire Department responded to 17,800 calls, according to City data.

The calls for service came while the departments were "grappling with vacancies, injuries and the residual impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic," City officials said in an email to the Lookout.

"Due to vacancies and officers out with illness or injury, overtime was needed to fill shifts," officials said. The City is currently "focusing on recruitment, retention and increasing staffing."

While police officers have traditionally dominated the top spots on the earnings list thanks to overtime pay, firefighters have caught up.

Firefighters held 11 of the top 20 spots for total pay and benefits, including the top two spots, compared to eight spots held by police officers.

A total of 34 firefighters made more than $100,000 in overtime pay last year, with overtime exceeding regular pay in eight of the cases.

"Fire Department overtime is primarily attributed to backfill for constant staffing related to vacancies, employees on vacation, employees off due to injury, sick leave etc," City officials said.

"Some overtime, such as mutual aid Strike Team deployments and Fire Safety Officer assignments, are reimbursed to the City."

The Fire Department is "currently completing recruitment activities for firefighter recruits to fill a projected eight firefighter vacancies," City officials said.

The Department also recently completed two lateral recruitment academies to fill previous vacancies, City officials said.

The top earning police officer was Deputy Police Chief Darrick R. Jacob, who earned $543,982.64 in total pay and benefits, including $354,198.67 in total pay. Overtime pay accounted for only $1,764.81.

He was one of five police officers whose pay and benefits totaled more than half a million dollars.

In the past six months, the Police Department has hired more than 25 new officers, and another six officers and one sergeant will be added during the 2023-2025 fiscal year.

Last year, the City Council authorized additional overtime to deploy the Directed Action Response Team (DaRT) at the Pier and downtown areas, City officials said.

The Police Department also implemented a special deployment in downtown to augment patrol operations, while "first amendment activity in Santa Monica requires increasing the number of officers."

The only top 20 wage earner who was not a member of public safety was City Manager David White, who was 12th on the earnings list with pay and benefits totaling $487,885.05.

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