San Antonio employees, police made nearly $1 million in overtime funded by coronavirus relief money, records show

Bulk of funds went to police

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SAN ANTONIO – More than 100 San Antonio police officers received overtime pay in 2020 funded by federal coronavirus relief dollars, according to data obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders.

In March 2020, the federal government allocated hundreds of billions of dollars to state and local governments through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The City of San Antonio received $270 million from that funding.

That money was divided up, with much of it funding the city’s “Recovery and Resiliency” plan. Part of that money was also used on eligible city payroll expenses, city officials previously confirmed.

The data, obtained through an open records request under state law, showed that at least $992,799.86 went toward overtime expenses and “special assignment pay” for city employees last year. The following graph shows how that money was divided up among each city department.

More than half of the funds — at least $591,157 in total — went toward San Antonio police officers, records showed. Fifteen officers made more than $10,000. Money was also allotted for:

  • Metro Health: $283,472 (This money was designated as special assignment pay because those staff members are not eligible for overtime pay)
  • Aviation: $67,793.99
  • 311 Call Center: $16,773.28
  • Code Enforcement: $13,298.25

Three officers — Capt. Chris Benavides, Sgt. Tina Baron, and Officer Rachelle M. Littlefield — made more than $20,000 in federally funded overtime pay, according to the data. Benavides was paid $47,078, Baron was paid $43,257 and Littlefield was paid $31,604.

Employees likely made more money in overtime pay that was not covered by the federal relief funds.

Mariah Medina, the department’s public affairs manager, said these three officers made that much due to their involvement with the Emergency Operations Center, which was activated during the pandemic.

Benavides was the “designated SAPD COVID lead for the department,” Medina said. He was tasked with maintaining between agency partners of the EOC and SAPD’s command staff.

Baron was assigned to the EOC team for three months as well as serving as a family assistance supervisor for the department. In that role, she serves as a police liaison with families of officers who are injured or killed.

Littlefield was another Liaison Officer assigned to the EOC, officials said. She worked on the EOC finance team, keeping track of times of service and assignments for all officers participating in events.

Police officials said the EOC required 12-hour shifts seven days a week and that the department had to quickly adapt to the pandemic. The department created a pandemic response team and established a 24-hour personal protective equipment hotline for officers as well as a hotline to report potential COVID-19 exposures.

“The unique and unprecedented needs of the pandemic response have been challenging, but we continue to be as proactive and collaborative as possible following best practices and guidance from Metro Health, CDC, and other professionals,” Medina said.

Beyond the police department, Metro Health employees made the second-largest amount with a total of $283,472. A city spokesperson said this money was distributed as “special assignment pay” based on the their tier of employment. The compensation was for providing oversight to the city’s pandemic response.

Assistant Public Health Director Anita Kurian made $10,396, records showed, while Chief of Epidemiology Rita Espinoza made $7,611.

Overtime costs associated with the fire department were not included with this data estimate because overtime was not administered per fire employee, but rather charged on a “per-call basis,” finance department officials said.

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About the Authors:

Fares Sabawi has been a journalist in San Antonio for four years. He has covered several topics, but specializes in crime, courts, open records and data visualization.

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined the KSAT 12 Defenders in 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat. He provides restaurant health reports for KSAT's "Behind the Kitchen Door." Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.