Does a Police Officer Get Paid Overtime to Attend Court?

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Many police officers receive an allowance for  buying uniforms and keeping them clean.
Many police officers receive an allowance for buying uniforms and keeping them clean. (Image: Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images)

"To protect and serve" is the motto of many law enforcement agencies. Police officers protect individuals from becoming crime victims, and they serve the community by deterring crime. One way that police officers protect and serve a community is by testifying in court at criminal trials. Police departments compensate police officers for time they spend going to court to give testimony.

Confrontation Clause

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees a criminal defendant the right to confront witnesses against him. In virtually every criminal case, the prosecution needs a police officer's testimony to present the evidence that proves the case against the defendant. In addition to testifying about a case, a police officer may also authenticate the chain of custody of physical evidence that law enforcement officers collected in a case. After a police officer testifies for the prosecutor's case in chief, the defense attorney exercises the defendant's right to confront witnesses by cross-examining the officer.

Police Salaries

Salaries for police officers vary significantly depending on the organization that employs the officer and the officer's rank in the hierarchy of command. The U.S. Department of Labor, citing a survey by the International City-County Management Association, reported that as of 2008 police officers' average salaries ranged from $49,421 per year for a police corporal to $113,930 for a police chief.

Overtime

A police officer's total compensation often exceeds his salary because of the overtime pay he receives. An officer may receive overtime pay for a variety of duties, such as working up a case, traveling, and attending court to testify in a criminal trial. An officer's overtime pay can be significant. In 2010, a police officer in a drug possession trial testified that he "made out well" with overtime earnings from his court appearances. The defendant claimed that the officer was biased because he received overtime pay for testifying; the jury convicted the defendant in spite of the allegation of bias.

Alternatives

An alternative program known as "drug court" may help reduce the public expense of paying police officers overtime for court testimony. Many jurisdictions have experimented with the use of drug courts in lieu of the traditional justice system. Drug courts attempt to rehabilitate drug-addicted defendants by implementing recovery counseling, drug tests, accountability programs and reward systems. A 2004 study prepared by the U.S. Department of Justice found that law enforcement officials in Nebraska saved an average of $4,000 per drug case by reducing costs such as paying overtime to police officers for court testimony.

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