City audit faults BPD’s lack of oversight, technology for ballooning overtime expenses

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Photo by Elvert Barnes, via Flickr

The Baltimore Police Department is “operating at an unsatisfactory level in virtually every area” when it comes to documenting, monitoring and supervising overtime, which has in part allowed expenses to more than double over the last four years, according to an audit released by the Pugh administration today.

The report, the first in a two-part review of BPD’s overtime spending by the Department of Finance, faults the department for poor supervision of officers clocking in and out, and sub-par accountability from supervisors tasked with overseeing their hours.

It points also to barriers to effective supervision, like the fact that some units such as the Bomb Squad and K-9, among others, work off-site from patrol divisions without uniform attendance reporting procedures, or that investigative units don’t have scheduled hours or places to report to when working. More broadly, it says the onus falls on a lack of tech infrastructure to oversee the entire system, which the city’s finance director, Henry Raymond, noted is mostly handled on paper.

“The first electronic record of an officer’s overtime is created when the timekeeper enters the overtime slip in the payroll system for payment, which happens days or sometimes weeks after the overtime was worked,” the report says.

The 11-page report offers short-term fixes for monitoring officer attendance and overtime. Among the proposals to address BPD’s attendance issues with officers clocking in and out: Make all officers appear for roll call daily, eliminate the option for them to use paid vacation or floating holidays to take time off for medical reasons—something they do to earn eight bonus “medical incentive days” if they manage not to use any sick leave in a given year—and stop awarding them paid days off that they haven’t accrued.

Also recommended for the short term: Set a new policy requiring advance approval of most kinds of overtime (already in the works, the audit says); require time-stamped attendance reporting for all units, wherever they work; hold supervisors accountable for reviewing officers’ overtime slips with supporting documentation; and creating an internal audit process for the department to review its own overtime logs for specific months or quarters, among other suggestions.

The long-term recommendation is, by and large, for BPD to upgrade its technology for tracking overtime and attendance.

“For the most part, time is kept manually,” Raymond said at a press conference announcing the report. “It’s very labor-intensive, lots of paper, lots of forms; the more paper, the more prone it is to errors.”

The Finance Department has recommended “biometric timeclocks” and scanning for clocking in and out for scheduled shifts, and mobile technology like fingerprinting for pre-approved overtime, such as when a homicide detective is called to a scene; GPS tracking for all of the department;s unmarked take-home vehicles; and a brand new system for scheduling and tracking hours worked and attendance.

Click here to read the full report.

Police overtime expenses have ballooned over the last several years, from $23.2 million in fiscal year 2013 to $47.1 million in fiscal 2017. High-profile cases have offered memorable examples of abuse in the system, like those of the Gun Trace Task Force officers, who serially submitted false time cards at the expense of taxpayers, a lieutenant who did the same while working off-site at Horseshoe Casino or a sergeant assigned to SWAT who earned more than twice his $100,000 salary last year thanks to logged overtime hours.

The issue has soured to the point that the Baltimore City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee this summer rejected a request by the city’s spending board to allocate $21 million in supplemental tax revenue to help cover BPD’s overtime overruns. (The move was mostly symbolic, since the overtime has already been logged, but Baltimore’s fiscal 2017 checkbook remains unreconciled as a result.) The council has since held monthly oversight hearing on the police department’s finances, most recently on Oct. 10.

“Is there overtime abuse? I think so,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said today. Still, she pointed to the department’s deficit of officers, with “about 2,100” out of a little over 2,800 budgeted positions filled, all while violence is rising during fall.

“While we’re still trending downward,” she said, referring to year-over-year crime stats, “we’re hanging on by the skin of our teeth.”

A second part to the audit is planned to dig into overtime abuse, said City Solicitor Andre Davis. However, that process is also part of the city’s ongoing negotiations with FOP Lodge 3, the police union, on a new contract, which prevents the city from releasing details.

“Phase II is underway now, and will dig more deeply into the actual records of actual officers that we will use in connection with the litigation,” Davis said.

U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar, who’s overseeing BPD’s implementation of its consent decree, has pressed the city on upgrading its technology within the department, Pugh noted. The mayor said it’s unlikely the department will manage to fill those 700 open officer positions in the next several years. Instead, she said, the city should reallocate the funds budgeted for those jobs toward tech.

“That is the instruction that I’m providing for our finance department, because we’ve got to get here,” she said. “We cannot continue to accept recommendations without implementation. I can tell you that we will put that in our budget as we move forward for next year, because we have got to get the technology in place.”

In a statement, Matt Jablow, the department’s chief of public information, said BPD has already made some of the recommended changes and will continue working with the Pugh administration.

“Reducing overtime costs is one of the Department’s top priorities,” he said. “To that end, we have already begun implementing several recommendations included in the overtime audit and, working with the Mayor’s office, will continue that process over the next few months.”

This post has been updated.

Ethan McLeod
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