Friday, February 23, 2007


In my opinion, being willing to admit my mistakes is a key part of writing these articles for the rest of the world to read. I take the trouble to put put these posts out into the public domain, and thus I owe to to my readers -- especially the ones who disagree with me -- to set the record straight when I have gotten the facts wrong. Back in Part III in my series about police secondary employment, I included the following estimate of how much money the City of Pittsburgh could earn through a cost recovery program. The erroneous portion of this paragraph is highlighted below:

If a reduced rate of merely $2 per hour was enough to bring in $300,000 per year, then logically the Costa plan was capable of bringing in no less than $600,000. And if the Pittsburgh Police Department were to mirror the policies of other local agencies, the FOP's own figures suggest that the revenue from secondary employment could have easily climbed past $1.2 million per year. Every knowledgeable source who has contacted me on this issue, however, is convinced that the FOP's figures grossly underestimate the potential revenue from the cost recovery program. Depending on how you run the numbers, it's possible that a standard 22% plan could attract as much as $3 million in much-needed funds for the City of Pittsburgh.
At the time that I wrote this, I had to work with a variety of rather speculative numbers, and it was very difficult to come up with decent estimates of everything that went into the calculation. I spent a great deal of time calculating different models, but it's now abundantly clear that my upper limit of $3 million was very, very far off the mark.

Today's article in the Tribune Review reveals that the total estimated wages earned by off-duty police officers over the past year amounted to just $3.4 million. Clearly, no cost recovery plan, no matter how draconian, could ever expect to take in $3 million per year from these secondary employment details.

The People's Republic apologizes for this error, and regrets any problems that it may have caused. The original post will be edited to reflect the amounts provided by the Tribune-Review.


Anonymous said...

I'm confused over the "average" hourly rate issue. 75% of off-duty work pays $37.50/hr., & don't let anybody tell you any different - the kinds of work that doesn't pay that amount: cash details, certain bars, churches, restaurants, some cultural events, etc. I don't think you're looking for the "average", I think you need the "mean" (my advanced math skills are rusty...mean, median, mode, blah, blah, blah - you know what I "mean"!). Also, there are jobs where the "scheduler" takes a cut of the cop's pay - i.e. cop gets $30/hr., scheduler/capo gets $7.50/hr.

Although, if the Harper/Costa plan was to charge a flat rate regardless of what cops make on an hourly basis, the "average" and "mean" are irrelevant.

Finally, do you really believe that the City is aware of every detail that's being worked and the number of hours being worked??? Please. The City is relying on the honesty of the cops who are working the details, and while the majority are honest about these things, there are those guys who are working under the table...

Richmond K. Turner said...

First of all, let me thank you for commenting. I'm betting that you didn't do so looking for a math lesson, but that's the unfortuneate direction that our conversation will have to take.

First of all, in statistics the terms "mean" and "average" have the exact same definition. You take the total number of dollars received across all officers, divide by the total number of hours those officers work, and that's all there is to it. The resultant number give you mean hourly rate. It also gives you the average hourly rate. The two terms are synonymous.

Most details probably do pay the $37.50 rate that you claim. You seem far better informed about these things than I am, so I'm willing to take your word for it. But I'm just taking the numbers provided in the Tribune-Review article and doing the division necessary to calculate the mathematical average (a.k.a. mean). And those numbers do not equate to $37.50.

Of course, if the police officer doing the work receives only $30 per hour (while the rest goes to the scheduler), that's probably what would show up in the payroll system. That might explain the $30 per hour rate that you get when you do the math of the department's numbers.

That being said, if these schedulers are getting $7.50 per hour for their efforts, that amounts to a whopping 25% fee. And these schedulers have no liability concerns, don't have to pay to replace expended equipment, and indeed face no financial risk whatsoever. So if the capos, as you call them, are really getting $7.50 per hour for their no-risk efforts, they certainly have a lot of balls to insist that the city collect only $2 per hour.

If a flat fee is being charged, the average (or mean, if you prefer) is somewhat irrelevant. But not totally useless. It still gives us a way of converting the Pittsburgh "flat fee" arrangment into a percentage value, and thus allows us to compare the aggregate Pittsburgh rate to the percentage-based fees changed by other jurisdictions. And also, since the denominator of the average hourly rate is the total number of hours worked, it also allows us to estimate how much money will be brought in by the flat dollar-per-hour recovery fee. Just take the fee, multiply by the number of hours, and that's how money the city stands to make.

Numbers are fun. That must be why I do this kind of crap for a living. I really am a sick person, aren't I?

Like you, I don't really trust the city's estimates of how many untracked hours -- those which do not go through the Special Events Office -- are being worked. I also don't really trust their numbers on how much money is being earned ($21 per hour? Puh-leeze!). But those are the first concrete numbers that I've had to work with. Unless you can get me some better estimates, they are the only numbers that I have at the moment.

Thanks for commenting. And I'm sorry about the math lesson.

Richmond K. Turner said...

Oh, and by the way, if 75% of all details are indeed paying $37.50 to the officer (and not the officer and capo combined), then the official term for this value would be the "mode". The mode is simply the number that appears most frequently. It usually isn't all that useful for anything. You almost never see it reported in any academic publication. But that's what this value would be called.

Anonymous said...

anything that runs through the city computer system is charged at the current years police officer 4 time and half rate. Which as of 2007 is $38.54. Many other details and schedulers follow that same pay scale and are not run through the city, ie steelers, pirates, penguins as well as numerous others. Many officers negotiate lower rates in exchange for not being 1099. 39% being tracked more like 10%