According to a new report, since 2020, Charleston’s police officers have been paid more than $9 million in overtime wages. Critics said much of the money could have gone to programs to prevent harm and increase public safety.
Sara Whitaker, criminal legal policy analyst at the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and the report’s author, said last year, police overtime was more than $700,000 over budget.
“This means that the city has set aside more money for police overtime than the city’s combined allocations for economic development, substance abuse prevention and response, the public libraries, city festivals and public art projects,” Whitaker outlined.
The report showed despite the increased spending, rates of violent crime and major property crime have remained stagnant, while citations for low-level offenses, such as driving with an expired vehicle registration, have increased. This year, the City Council allocated $23 million to police officers for wages, benefits, pensions, insurance and equipment.
Whitaker pointed out the generous overtime pay partially led to a doubling of law enforcement in the city. She thinks residents should be asking questions about the cost, size and oversight of Charleston’s largest agency.
“One of the interesting discoveries of our research was that Charleston has double or triple the number of police officers compared to other Appalachian cities of similar size,” Whitaker noted.
The report called for shifting more funding into transitional and supportive housing, building mental health crisis response teams, and tackling gun violence with community-led intervention strategies.