The understaffed Sheriff's Department spends millions on overtime to fill in the gaps created by dozens of deputies on long-term sick leave, according to a civil grand jury report released Monday.
The department paid out $10.7 million in overtime to fill in for injured and sick deputies in 2012-13, according to the report, which specifically looked into jail operations.
"The large amount of overtime needed to meet the minimum staffing requirements for jail operations suggests that a shortage of qualified personnel exists," stated the report.
The matter has been compounded, the report said, because the department has so many employees on long-term sick leave instead of permanent disability and cannot therefore hire replacements even though those people "are not expected to return to work."
During the same period, the Sheriff's Department paid out roughly $3.7 million in workers' compensation claims for job related illnesses and injuries. Currently, 50 deputies are on long-term disability.
The practice of using overtime to fill in for vacant sick and injured employees, the report said, depletes city funds and increases the chances for injury as fewer deputies do more work.
"We found a relationship between the heavy use of overtime in the Sheriff's Department and job related injury and illness," the report said.
Using overtime costs data from a recent controller's report on overtime in all city departments in 2012-13, the jury noted that 31 percent of all hours worked by Sheriff's Department employees were overtime. The City's overtime limit is 25 percent.
Still, that percentage was not as high as other departments: 46 percent of all hours worked by Public Health Department employees were overtime, and it was 40 percent for the Police Department.
"I think it's fairly accurate," Assistant Sheriff Paul Miyamoto said of the report.
Still, any attempt to reduce overtime is limited because of the budget, he said. Even $10.7 million in overtime is cheaper than hiring replacements and paying workers' compensation at the same time, he added.
"Our staffing levels are based on our minimum," Miyamoto said. "When people get hurt, we don't get to replace them because they're not going out on permanent disability."
Nonetheless, one tool the department has used to reduce overtime is the use of newly graduated sheriff's deputies for court security at the same time they train for jail duty.
The San Francisco Sheriff Deputy's Association, which represents 750 of the roughly 838 deputies, did not return calls for comment.
The grand jury recommended that the Board of Supervisors request an audit of Sherriff's Department practices regarding overtime and workers compensation claims.
The government oversight body is an all-volunteer jury convened each year and investigates governmental bodies. Its findings are nonbinding.